St. Johns Cheers Section Success
February 10, 2015
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
ST. JOHNS – The low point might’ve come two years ago, when St. Johns student leaders planned a holiday theme for a boys basketball game.
Alex Davis showed up in a Christmas sweater. Only four of her classmates dressed to match.
That same year, the school’s newly-formed Student Athletic Leadership Committee created a calendar for the winter highlighting theme nights and other games they hoped would draw a big student crowd. The calendar was gone by the next day, torn down by older students who wanted to continue doing their own thing – which generally included yelling at referees or the other team, and not always in the most flattering ways.
Before St. Johns could compete to be called the state’s best student section, the SALC had to convince their classmates there was a better way.
And finally, this winter, they’ve broken through thanks to a blueprint other student leaders would be wise to follow.
“It’s something where you have to be able to have a voice and you have to be able to want to make the change and want to make the difference,” Davis said. “Because you can go to all of these meetings and do everything. But at the end of the day, if you don’t want to do it, there’s no way you’re going to carry it out and help other people to do it.”
St. Johns hosted the fourth stop Friday of this year’s MHSAA Battle of the Fans IV finalists tour. The MHSAA also has visited Beaverton, Yale and Buchanan and will journey to Dowagiac on Friday, with the naming of this year’s champion Feb. 20.
The public may vote for its favorite on the MHSAA’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram sites beginning Feb. 17, with the MHSAA Student Advisory Council taking results into consideration when selecting the champion after the vote has concluded.
St. Johns’ appearance in the contest wasn’t a thought in the fall. But a spot among the final five might not mean more to any of the contenders. More than 200 students rooted on the Redwings’ basketball teams Friday – a testament to the work that’s been done and the changes that have been made as the section has been transformed.
Athletic director Chris Ervin started the Student Athletic Leadership Committee during the fall of 2012 after a group of students attended an MHSAA Sportsmanship Summit in Lansing that focused in part on the previous winter’s inaugural Battle of the Fans competition.
At that point, St. Johns students generally showed up for games, at least for the football and boys basketball teams. But there wasn’t a lot of cheering, or cheering in the most positive way.
The committee came back from the Summit with great ideas. But a group of then-seniors already was in place as leaders of the section – and the SALC’s entrance into the conversation was mostly ignored.
The SALC was created in large part to lead the student section toward more positivity, sportsmanship, inclusion of all grades. After this football season, the committee was close to giving up.
“If everyone is against us, why are we trying to force something upon them that they don’t want?” St. Johns junior Jake Eaton recalled asking. “If we were going to just bring negativity, we didn’t want to do that.”
“Standing up for this group, standing up for what we’re doing, was the hardest thing,” junior Jessica Hafner said, “and the best thing.”
The SALC again attended an MHSAA Sportsmanship Summit, in November in Grand Rapids. They again came back with plenty of ideas – and a stronger, more experienced group to push them through.
The original SALC was 12 students, three from each grade. The committee invited three more from the rest of the student body.
“At first, it came (across) like we were trying to take over the student section. We weren’t trying to take it over. We were just trying to make it more positive,” Davis said. “We invited some of those people in our group. That won them over. We got them in, changed their ways, and they went to their friends. It’s worked.”
The SALC got its message out to a school-wide captive audience by holding a pep rally before the boys and girls games against DeWitt on Dec. 12. That allowed the SALC to show off their new philosophy – and some new cheers – to the entire school, which in turn got some younger students interested who might not have showed before.
The SALC then took advantage of a key opportunity. In St. Johns’ league, the Capital Area Activities Conference, the boys varsity basketball teams play first on Friday nights, followed by the girls. The students who weren’t embracing the changes usually left after the boys games – leaving the SALC to work with those who stayed to cheer on the girls.
It was at those games that the new section began gaining a foothold. Applying to Battle of the Fans, and the excitement after students saw the video, gave the SALC’s effort another boost.
“At first, we struggled to get participation,” said senior Austin Ervin, who stays after his basketball games to lead the section. “Once we got coordinated cheers that were fun and everybody realized what it was like to have fun and be positive and not just scream at the officials and teams, I think people started talking at school; ‘You should come to this. It’s a good time.’”
The student attendance at girls games continued to grow during the first half of this season, and the section’s new setup transferred to the boys games. St. Johns filled a section with high schoolers and nearly another with middle schoolers for Friday’s against Haslett; although a few rows at the top emptied, the majority of the crowd stayed to cheer on the girls. The section also has made an appearance at a wrestling match to cheer on a team that has won four MHSAA titles over the last five seasons.
Hafner, a basketball player, said the support is definitely making a difference on the court; the boys basketball team, at 7-7, is on pace to equal last season’s record, but the girls team, at 10-6, already has surpassed its 2013-14 win total.
St. Johns’ student section has come a long way in a short time, but the potential for growth seems limitless in a school of nearly 1,100 students. There’s a buzz in the halls and plans for the future now that changes have finally gotten started.
“I grew up in high school only knowing this (negative) stuff,” Eaton added. “Once we all matured in this situation, we have this year and next year and wanted to push it through and get it going before we left. Seeing how we came together for that video, it was definitely worth it, definitely something we could push for that next year and try to do better.”
PHOTOS: (Top) St. Johns students cheer during Friday's boys basketball game against Haslett. (Middle) The Redwings' student section reached to the top row while filling one full section and part of another of the school's gym. (Bottom) A trio of students energize their classmates with back flips Friday. (Photos courtesy of Jack Heckaman/jaxxphotos.com.)
Performance of the Week: Macomb Dakota's Gracie Maloney
May 12, 2023
Gracie Maloney ♦ Macomb Dakota
Junior ♦ Softball
Maloney struck out 21 batters – for every one of her team’s outs – in Dakota’s 9-1 victory over Grosse Pointe North on May 1. She gave up only two hits and also hit a home run for the Cougars, who are ranked No. 1 in Division 1 in the latest state coaches association poll. Maloney is one of only 13 pitchers in state softball history to strike out 21 or more hitters during a seven-inning game.
Also a third baseman, Maloney started last season’s Division 1 Final at that position and threw an inning of relief as well as Dakota finished runner-up to Allen Park. She also plays basketball, and has committed to sign to play softball at University of North Texas. She’s considering studying sports management there as she aspires to become a college softball coach.
@mhsaasports 🥎 POW: Gracie Maloney #softball #strikeout #strike #performanceoftheweek #homerun #dakota #macombdakota #cougars #MHSAA #highschoolsports #tiktalk #interview #TikTok #mistudentaid #fyp @gracie ♬ Beat Automotivo Tan Tan Tan Viral - WZ Beat
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May 4: Braxton Brann, Ann Arbor Huron track & field - Report
April 27: Owen Patton, Vestaburg track & field - Report
April 20: Lilly Damm, Millington softball - Report
April 13: Larissa Huffman, Mackinaw City track & field - Report
April 6: Darius Acuff, Detroit Cass Tech basketball - Report
March 23: Regan Finkbeiner, Hemlock basketball - Report
March 16: Alaina Yaney, Grand Ledge gymnastics - Report
March 9: Braeden Davis, Dundee wrestling - Report
March 2: Gabriel Sanchez-Burks, Ann Arbor Pioneer swimming - Report
Feb. 23: Grace Sobczak, Marquette swimming - Report
Feb. 16: Kaitlynn Demers, Gibraltar Carlson competitive cheer - Report
Feb. 9: Indya Davis, West Bloomfield basketball - Report
Feb. 2: Braydon Sorenson, Onekama skiing - Report
Jan. 26: Shayna Hruska, Iron Mountain wrestling - Report
Jan. 19: Kayla Tafanelli, Warren Woods-Tower bowling - Report
Dec. 20: Brenden Paden, Riverview Gabriel Richard hockey - Report
Dec. 16: Tuff Scott, Holton bowling - Report
Dec. 9: Macey Fegan, Standish-Sterling basketball - Report
Dec. 2: Treyton Siegert, Gladwin football - Report
Nov. 24: Lily Witte, Dexter diving - Report
Nov. 17: Navea Gauthier, Shelby volleyball - Report
Nov. 10: Derek Huisman, Holland Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3: Thomas Westphal, New Baltimore Anchor Bay cross country - Report
Oct. 27: Justin Wickey, Colon football - Report
Oct. 20: Owen DeMuth, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood tennis - Report
Oct. 13: Mia Melendez, Ann Arbor Greenhills golf - Report
Oct. 6: Shawn Foster, Grand Ledge football - Report
Sept. 30: Hannah Smith, Temperance Bedford swimming - Report
Sept. 22: Helen Sachs, Holland West Ottawa cross country - Report
Sept. 15: Nina Horning, Lake Orion volleyball - Report
Sept 8: Arturo Romero, Muskegon Oakridge soccer - Report
Sept. 1: Austin King, Midland Dow tennis - Report
Aug. 25: Olivia Hemmila, Troy Athens golf - Report
PHOTOS courtesy of the Maloney family.