By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Beaverton’s “Bleacher Creatures” student section has filled stands for 35 years.
But when leaders decided this fall to get more organized, and then met this for the first-ever Spirit Club meeting, they had one goal in mind:
Win Battle of the Fans III.
They got their chance Friday during the MHSAA’s visit for a boys basketball game against Houghton Lake – and showed more than enough to capture the title as the state’s top high school cheering section.
“It’s such an honor to be involved with some of the other schools this year. And knowing how far we came, it’s just so awesome. Our dream came true,” said Beaverton junior Drew Porter, the spirit club’s president. “When we got over 1,000 votes, that’s almost our whole town population, and that was just like, ‘Oh my God.’ It was a feeling that you only feel when you’re in a great situation, and we’ve got a great community here. They support us, and we support the basketball team.”
The Creatures will accept their MHSAA championship banner during the 6 p.m. Class B Boys Basketball Semifinal on March 21 at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.
Today is a snow day at Beaverton, which will only delay what should turn into a community celebration when the 1,100-resident town hosts rival Gladwin for a basketball game tonight.
Beaverton was chosen based on a vote by the MHSAA’s 16-member Student Advisory Council influenced by public vote on the MHSAA’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram sites. A total of 12,938 social media votes were received, with those results then equated against a school’s enrollment.
From the Advisory Council side, this clearly was the closest Battle of the Fans to date. Four finalists received first-place votes, and the champion wasn’t decided until the final two votes were tallied. The Council based its vote on the following criteria: positive sportsmanship, student body participation, school spirit, originality of cheers, organization of the group, section leadership and overall fun.
Beaverton and then Buchanan easily received the majority of public social media votes, with Facebook those fans’ main mode of support. Judging by comments to stories on Second Half, some of those votes came from as far away as the Pacific coastline and Gulf of Mexico.
Some numbers to consider from this season's contest: The application videos have been watched nearly 12,500 times, and the MHSAA-produced videos from our tour stops have 6,500 views. The stories on the five finalists plus Tuesday’s explanation of how to vote had been viewed 19,865 times as of 8:30 this morning.
Through snow storms and anything else the polar vortex threw our way, we enjoyed memorable trips this winter. Here’s some of what we’ll remember most about each finalist:
This is Our House Award: Bridgman
What we saw: The Bees boys basketball team has won 80 percent of its home games over the last 19 seasons. Credit popular coach Mike Miller with much of that, but he’d surely also point to his “Orange Crush” student section. Bridgman, a Class C school, has a gym that should be the envy of many a Class A program. Bigger schools also would love to be cheered on by a section like the Crush, as fans stacked a corner of the stands three levels into the rafters while rooting their team to another win.
Why we’re fans: The band and cheerleaders – and of course the mascot Buzz – all take significant roles in the “Hive” party as well, and the “TNT” box to set off the section after every 3-pointer was an excellent addition this season. And there’s a reason the Bees are so strong at home – their fans stay engaged in the game action throughout. Cheering on teams is the most important responsibility of a student section, and the Crush has a measured impact.
Model Student Section Award: Buchanan
What we saw: What did “The Herd” do after winning the Battle of the Fans in 2013? It became an organized group engaging roughly 10 percent of the school as part of its planning committee, and became an often-requested source of support at community functions. The Bucks remain an incredible example of bringing together an entire school and keeping fans active from tip-off to the final buzzer, as we saw again during our return visit.
Why we’re fans: More of the above – the Bucks are organized, positive and have quickly created a camaraderie that has become not just the talk of the town, but among social media followers from afar as well. The excitement has caught on among the district’s middle school students – they’ve created a mini Herd – and that means we’re planning on visiting Buchanan again in 2015. Other sections have watched the Bucks and learned – and should continue to do so.
Comeback in a Year Award: Frankfort
What we saw: Think you can’t quickly change a culture of negative cheering at your school? See Frankfort, which took down two decades of built-up bad reputation and threw it out of “The Cage” this winter. Student leaders knew negativity spewed in the past didn’t feel right, and they attacked the problem head on. We love a great story, and this might be our favorite of BOTF III. And if leaders are correct, the good times are spreading throughout Frankfort’s corner of the Lower Peninsula – and we’re excited to see the results in 2015.
Why we’re fans: Outside of the obvious – we are huge proponents of sportsmanship – more than 80 percent of this Class D school’s student body regularly shows for home games. And its “Icy Hot” theme – students wore winter clothes during the first half and summer gear during the second – arguably was the most creative theme we saw this season. Frankfort’s application video mentioned the Panthers enjoy championships before panning to a hallway full of them. A Battle of the Fans championship banner could be on the way soon.
Voice of the People Award: Traverse City West
What we saw: West student senate governor Brady Severt, among other witticisms, offered a thought that was essentially, “It’s one thing to get 100 students to do something. It’s another to get 400 moving the same way.” How do the “Bleacher Creatures” do so? The section’s efforts are rooted in the school’s senate, a “melting pot” of 30 students representing social groups throughout the student body. Up front is the “Bucket Brigade,” section leaders who inherit the role of running the show during games while dressed in paint suits and banging on plastic buckets – and we wish we’d been at a football game so we could’ve seen the buckets in action (no noise makers in the gym!).
Why we’re fans: Big numbers are impressive, but as Severt noted, tough to direct at times. West does it, and be sure we noted students joining the section at the end of the basketball game after coming from the jazz concert or play also going on that night. And talk about originality ... the Creatures were so original, they made up a cheer on the spot during our visit. Big-time effort from a sizable group.
Battle of the Fans champion: Beaverton
What we saw: These Bleacher Creatures are more than just a student section. They encompass multiple generations of a proud small town, and can grow to include support from rival schools throughout the Jack Pine Conference. Parents of current-day Creatures were part of the section three decades ago, and we listened as members of the 1984 boys basketball team gave shout-outs to the support that lives on during the team’s induction Friday into the school’s Hall of Fame.
Why we're fans: Friday’s game was never close after the first few minutes, but Beaverton’s Creatures cheered on whoever was on the floor until the very end. We heard stories of how fans from Sanford Meridian, Gladwin and other league schools joined the section during Beaverton’s run to the boys basketball Quarterfinals last season, so we weren’t surprised to see two Creature ambassadors walk up to Houghton Lake’s section and invite those students to join in to the “Macarena.” Porter personally heard from friends in Gladwin and Clare who cast their online votes for their Jack Pine mates. The Creatures personify togetherness and take it to a level far larger than their school and town.
Porter had a brief opportunity during the MHSAA visit to watch his section from across the gym and couldn't help but be proud. A special moment took place after the game as well; usually after big wins, the student section takes to the floor to congratulate the team. This time, players stormed the stands for what likely was the first time in the Creatures' long history.
"How much dedication everyone else has, everybody is in it together," Porter said. "Nobody feels left out. That was our main goal this year, to get everybody involved."
Next for our finalists is the big screen – clips from all five MHSAA tour stops will be shown on the main scoreboard during the Girls and Boys Basketball Finals in March at the Breslin Center. And, as mentioned above, Beaverton will take center court on March 21 to be recognized for its championship effort.
Nearly 50 MHSAA member schools have applied for Battle of the Fans during its first three years, and the competitiveness of this season’s contest can’t be stated enough. We’ve watched BOTF literally transform cheering at schools and now into leagues all over the state, and this year’s group of finalists certainly will continue to have an impact in showing the fun that can be had while keeping to good sportsmanship and positive support of the local team.
Beaverton, the biggest stage is yours. Your community and your league will surely take pride in this championship – and 35 years of Bleacher Creatures have plenty to celebrate.
Battle of the Fans III is sponsored in part by the United Dairy Industry of Michigan.
Caleb Lewandowski ♦ Traverse City West
Senior ♦ Skiing
Lewandowski, a three-time past Finals individual event winner, will head to his final championship meet Monday after claiming last week's slalom (1:20.90) and giant slalom (55.85) Regional titles at the Division 1 meet at Marquette Mountain. Lewandowski is the reigning two-time Finals champion in the slalom and also won the giant slalom at the Finals in 2023. Another slalom win Monday would make him the first in MHSAA boys skiing history to claim that championship three times.
Traverse City West as a team won the Regional title as well and will attempt to claim a fourth-straight Division 1 Finals team championship at Boyne Highlands. Lewandowski is actually the second individual Finals champion from his family – older brother Aiden was the Division 1 giant slalom winner in 2021 – and Caleb also might not be the last as he has three freshman brothers and a freshman sister skiing for the Titans this winter. Caleb Lewandowski also plays lacrosse for the Traverse City United cooperative program that includes athletes from West and Central.
@mhsaasports ⛷️POW: Caleb Lewandowski #skiing #slalom #giantslalom #traversecitywest #letsgo #part1 #highschoolsports #tiktalk #interview #performanceoftheweek #mistudentaid #fyp #MHSAA ♬ original sound - MHSAA
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Past 2023-24 Honorees
Feb. 15: Jadin Mix, Onaway basketball - Report
Feb. 8: Onalee Wallis, Cadillac skiing - Report
Feb. 1: Abbey DeGraw, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek competitive cheer - Report
Jan. 25: Ewan Todd, Riverview swimming - Report
Jan. 18: Ashley Weller, Jackson Northwest basketball - Report
Jan. 11: Michael Baldwin, Saginaw Arthur Hill wrestling - Report
Dec. 15: Jena Fijolek, Fenton bowling - Report
Dec. 8: Sophia Wagner, Escanaba gymnastics - Report
Dec. 1: Isaiah Marshall, Southfield Arts & Technology football - Report
Nov. 24: Sarah Bradley, Clarkston Everest Collegiate volleyball - Report
Nov. 17: Kalieb Osborne, Waterford Mott football - Report
Nov. 10: Tekalegn Vlasma, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3: Colton Kinnie, Birmingham Seaholm football - Report
Oct. 27: Lauren Timpf, Macomb Lutheran North golf - Report
Oct. 20: Alena Li, Okemos golf - Report
Oct. 13: Seth Norder, Grand Haven cross country - Report
Oct. 5: Paige Anderson, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer golf - Report
Sept. 29: MacKenzie Bisballe, Lake City volleyball - Report
Sept. 22: Jhace Massey, Gladwin football - Report
Sept. 15: Kaylee Draper, Sturgis swimming - Report
Sept. 8: Owen Jackson, Traverse City St. Francis tennis - Report
Sept. 1: Rachel Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country - Report
(Photos courtesy of the Traverse City West athletic department.)