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Nov. 10, 2005

In search of Blair fans

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
Two of the main reasons why Blair is such a unique school are its diversity and multiculturalism. In our school are future math and science geniuses, creative free spirits and students from dozens of different nations and cultures. But for all the great demographics our school has, it lacks in one category that mid- and up county schools don't: support for its sports teams.

Blair used to be a model in Montgomery County for school unity and spirit. Louis Hoelman, an alumnus who manages the softball team, said that support when he attended school 20 years ago didn't always hinge on the team's record.

"Our football team won two games in three years, and my friends and I went to every game. The stadium was always full," he said.

But our school's identity began to change. In the mid-1980s, it welcomed CAP and Magnet students, some of whom live at least 20 or 30 minutes from Blair. With the renovation and gentrification of Four Corners and Silver Spring, there became more to do on weekend nights than before. Coincidence or not, the support for the major sports teams (football and basketball) fell precipitously.

However, support is not just directly tied to ticket sales. In fact, it's even more about awareness. Here's a quick test to see how well you know Blair athletics: who's the starting quarterback for the football team?

At most schools that's an easy answer; the stereotype of the starting quarterback being the big man on campus is not a myth at many schools. But here, says baseball manager John MacDonald, our major teams don't promote themselves.

"To some kids on the football team, it seems," he says, "that it's not cool to stand up in front of their class and say `Hey, come to our game this week!' It's much cooler to be macho. [The players] just blend in with everyone else at the school." Most days, the football players don't wear letter jackets and Aaron Simon, our starting quarterback (and former QB Ross Williams) looks like any Blair student.

What our school lacks even more than visibility is a general sense of pride. Our pep rallies are meant to boost support for our football team, but all they do is disintegrate into a 45-minute battle of class chants. When the school divides students up by grade in the stands for the rally and promote the yelling, they waste a rare chance to unify all four classes of our school around our sports.

At this season's first home football game, even as Blair was locked in a tight contest late in the fourth quarter against Springbrook, the loudest noises from fans that I heard were "Ohhh-Six!" and "Seniors!" Not, "let's go Blair!" or anything like that.

There were plenty of bare bleachers at our final home game this year. With a playoff berth on the line, not having a larger crowd was disappointing.

MacDonald is very candid about what he sees as the crux of the problem. "The pep rallies are meant to spur interest, and they always turn into shouting matches. It's a selfish thing; there's no support for athletics. We're not a community," he says.

Not only are our 3,300 students not a community, MacDonald says, but also the teams themselves lack overall pride. "There's a lot of selfishness in each sport. It's a sign of the times, but the school could do way better with support," he laments. I remember [at] Blair decades ago; you used to see the football team sit together at basketball games, and vice versa. They used to have a bigger network of friends than they do now. We lack that community feel here."

Something, he says, that up county schools have. "Not only is the lack of support is societal, but it's a community thing. Sherwood, Blake; they're communities."

A lot of that can likely be attributed to money, something that families up county have more of than most Blazer parents. Up-county families with more disposable income can afford to send their eight-year olds to recreational leagues together, while Blair families cannot. The inherent income gap between the schools allows more affluent parents to support athletics than the poorer ones can.

21.3 percent of Blair's student body qualifies for Free and Reduced Meals (FARMs), far more than Sherwood (9.2 percent), Blake (10.9) or Damascus (5.5). When one-fifth of the school can't afford to pay $2.05 for lunch, how can they afford to play in youth leagues in third grade?

Also, many of the fans at the Sherwood and Blake football games seem to be parents, who didn't have to worry about making money and could afford the time and cash to attend sporting events. A lot of the visiting crowds at Blair basketball games are up-county parents; most of Blair's fans are students.

Hoelman says that not only do the youth teams help players; they also build fans at a young age. "Damascus and Sherwood, for example, have such good youth programs; it helps educate fans who go to games because their friends play. And then when they go to high school, they're into watching the sport," he says

Athletic Director Dale Miller, who led Blair's boys' basketball team to multiple state titles in the 1970s, shrugged off that theory, saying that it's harder for us to draw fans because Silver Spring has so much more to offer. "If you live up in Damascus, for example, you've got nothing else to do but go to games."

Miller, however, did agree that quality recreational leagues breed success on the field and in the stands. "Winning equals attendance, and a lot of those schools have good neighborhood youth programs that we don't."

What the four of us seem to agree upon is, as crass and ignorant as it sounds, our diversity hurts us when it comes to supporting our major teams. Miller says "We're so diverse, that a lot of students here don't like football or care about it. Blair's made up of so many different groups of people that attending games isn't the social thing to do school-wide."

It's a tough order to fill; increasing awareness of all our sports teams without gentrifying the school and sucking it of any culture and diversity. A start would be to use the pep rallies to promote real "pep" for our athletes, instead of as a forum to boo the freshmen. MacDonald's proposal of a yearly assembly for all the athletes to discuss how important it is to show support for all the other teams and to form an athletic identity at Blair again is terrific.

And most of all, Blair needs to make football and basketball cool again. The football team has highlights on Info Flow every week, but there's no grassroots promotion of each game. The teams feel distant and separated from the school, but at the same time indistinguishable from any other event going on at Blair.

MacDonald says that, compared to when he was a student, "athletes aren't admired today the same way." There seems to be no aura around the football team; it's not that they're not nice guys, but they don't give off that `big men on campus' feel. We need the football players to be athletes on Friday night, and marketing executives the rest of the week.

And winning isn't everything, either. As McDonald mentioned, we have "two state champion runners, [Ashley and Halsey] Sinclair. And nobody knows who they are!" That's not the fault of the Sinclairs', whom McDonald calls "the best athletes in the school." Rather, the Athletic Department's promotion of them is a farce.

Although, to be honest, the AD isn't the only place where the promotional ball is being dropped. Halsey Sinclair just won the county championships a few weeks ago, running five kilometers in 18:59. But there were no announcements at school until Silver Chips came out today. Sinclair deserved timelier and better recognition for her accomplishment.

We need our best athletes on the biggest teams to make it cool to watch sports at Blair again. If they can't stand up and be proud of their game, then why should we? But if they want to support each other, then we as students should show them love in the same way.

As corny as it sounds, it's about school unity. And it's about making Blazer Stadium on a Friday night the best place in Silver Spring once again.

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  • Anonymous on November 10, 2005 at 8:12 PM
    "We need the football players to be athletes on Friday night, and marketing executives the rest of the week."

    I disagree. We need the football players to be athletes on Friday night, and students the rest of the week. This is high school. Yes they could tell everybody "game tonight, come out if you wanna watch" but we don't need these athletes getting big heads. Off the field they are just another student who has homework, tests, and everything every other student deals with.

    Also, we have to realize, this is just one high school in one county. Do the Sinclair's deserve recognition? You bet. I'm not putting down the football team or the quarterback (you're right, I don't know his name), but I'm sure we'd know his name if he was really amazing. If he was getting a full ride to Miami, I'm sure we'd know his name. This is just one school in one county in one state. And Maryland isn't usually considered a football state, I'm sure the worst Texas football team could kill a team like Damascus. These kids are not superstars, sports is just what they like to do. Why don't people every support the best artists in the school? The best musicians? Why does no one know a single person in our jazz band? Sports is just one more thing we do for fun, and I would guess most kids wouldn't like a lot of recognition, they just want to be another kid.

    I haven't gone to a football game yet but I will be going to the one at Damascus. It's a big game that will determine if they make the playoffs. The one thing I think that would help is if they didn't charge admission. Baseball games get kids all the time just walking over because they're curious. You know why? It's free. This is nothing more than a youth football team where all students go to Blair. Do I want them to win? Of course. Will I lose any sleep over it if they lose? Not really. All in all, if you love to play football, follow your dream, you love to sing, sing. But sports is a hobby, and we are student-athletes, student first. It can be fun to watch a high school football game, but you really can't blame people for having something better to do.
  • Jewish Pride (View Email) on November 10, 2005 at 8:16 PM
    Why do we need school unity? I don't particularly care about sports teams. They can enjoy their games without us.

    And what's wrong with the Magnets and the CAPpies? We generate our own unique culture in Blair. I know the Magnet has its own distinctive societal hierarchy and structure, and the same can be said for the CAPpies. Is this really a bad thing?

    Sorry, a bit off the point. But I don't see any reason to take pride in my school as long as I do well and learn as much as I possibly can.
  • football on November 10, 2005 at 10:44 PM
    If there were more school unity and support for our sports teams, maybe they would be better. There is more motivation to play when those around you care, as opposed to when peers just go "oh we suck anyways"

    and the only blair fans we have at away football games are the players parents
  • Anarchist on November 10, 2005 at 11:59 PM
    How worth it is it to drive for an hour (30 there, 30 back) for a high school football game?

    Answer: not very.
  • ... on November 11, 2005 at 4:59 PM
    "MacDonald says that, compared to when he was a student, "athletes aren't admired today the same way." There seems to be no aura around the football team; it's not that they're not nice guys, but they don't give off that `big men on campus' feel. We need the football players to be athletes on Friday night, and marketing executives the rest of the week. "

    Blair sounds like it, socially, actually has its priorities in line. I found it's hard to get behind the opinion in this article...
  • sike on November 12, 2005 at 8:43 AM
    "And Maryland isn't usually considered a football state, I'm sure the worst Texas football team could kill a team like Damascus."

    Um, no. Maryland is actually a much better football state than you think. And just so you know, Damascus is ranked #9 in the nation, so i doubt the worst football team from Texas could kill them
  • sam silsbee on November 12, 2005 at 12:30 PM
    i went to the damascus game last night and it was kind of depressing. not that we lost, but that every seat on the home side was filled up and there were probably more damascus fans on the visitors side than blair supporters. This was the biggest football game weve had in years, and we could only muster up 20-30 students? granted, i havent been to too many football games, but my senior year ive tried to go to every one. For 07, 08, and 09, support your school next year, it'll make you feel great.

    To Jewish Pride: Theres something to be said for having a sense of community and not being completely selfish. maybe if you stepped out of your "unique social heirarchy", you'd see that there is something special about being at a football game with your friends, surrounded by people all with one goal, rooting for your team. all differences, social classes, cliques are put aside for the common goal of supporting your team and making as much noise as you can.

    and there were lots of magnets at the game yesterday, so dont hate on them.
  • young caesar on November 12, 2005 at 4:38 PM
    I think a major part of this lack of school spirit etc. has to do with our multiculturalism and the fact that many of the kids who go to blair have never heard of football/basketball and I guess have never encountered the American concept of "school pride". Can you really blame kids who have just recently come to America for not wanting to participate in somthing like this?
  • 07 on November 12, 2005 at 7:03 PM
    There should be more announcements.

    When I was a freshman, I remember Ms. Fus cograduating athletes who accomplished something big, like a softball player in the Washington post or track runner who won first place in a big meet. Now they dont say any congrats.

    and as far as pep rallies go, other scools have skits and perdormances to boosst school spirit, but of course, Ganious banned them. We dont have any fun events to be examples for incentives to go to Blair events, and Blair lacks fun events. Ganious and administration is quick to cancel but never supplements activites, so students figure its dead. If the adults dont care, they figure, why should we? Its sad.

    We need to have more stuff broadcasted over info flo so that students can BE INFORMED about upcoming events. They should have re-caps of events also so that students can see what went on and maybe say "I'll go next time, it lokked fun"
  • ;; on November 12, 2005 at 9:36 PM
    why should athetes be glorified by everyone in the school? Maybe we should also push for more glorification of those students that receive 4.0's or get good scores on the SAT's.
  • to sike on November 12, 2005 at 9:40 PM
    how can you rank high school sports teams nationally? they never play a game outside thier state. It's like ranking private and public schools toghther in the post. then is the last time Damascus played damatha or good council or st. johns. the rankings are unrealistic and pointless, especially at the national level.
  • Adam on November 12, 2005 at 9:47 PM
    first, footbal gets more fans at any single game than ANY SPORT. how many people show up for vollyball or tennis games? should students on these teams give off that "big man on campus" feel?

    there are good sports teams at blair but because the only sports that are advertized are football and basketball, they get the most fans. girls soccer made it to the reginal semi-finals for the first time ever, and the boys soccer team had an 11 win season. the biggest support for these teams didn't come until the playoffs. Also softball had one of, if not the best record in the county. blair has good teams, you just have to be wiling to look for them.
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on November 12, 2005 at 10:15 PM
    I'll be honest, Sam; I was actually impressed by the turnout. For a couple hundred people to drive up there made me pleased. Thursday night it was looking like I was gonna be the only one up there.
  • alumna3 (View Email) on November 13, 2005 at 12:40 PM
    Very true about the diversity comments. Many Blazer come from Hispanic c'tries & Afrikan (like myself)c'tries Our football is western world soccer. American football is foreign to us, so we are not interested.

    When I was @ Blair there was a school spirit team sponsored by Ms Fus & Ms MaddenPayne. They encouraged school spirit. Does that club still exist?

    Also, maybe try sponsoring a bus to the games. I did not drive until my 2nd sem sr yr, so I was not able to go to the Damascus, Sherwood, Paint Branch games.
  • asdf on November 13, 2005 at 5:36 PM
    The most significant explanation for why Blair sports teams have so little schoolwide support is that most Blair students are either poor or smart. Our demographics are not at all conducive to school spirit. Does anyone notice the fact that there are hardly any stereotypical All-American "Jocks" at Blair? And maybe that's not a bad thing, and maybe it is.
  • Andrew Tourtellot '04 on November 14, 2005 at 12:26 AM
    Pretty well thought out opinion, pretty well thought out comments. Great quotes. Mr MacDonald, Mr Hoelman, you guys rock. Mr Miller I never knew you but I'm sure you rock too... Nice job overall.
  • H K on November 14, 2005 at 8:43 AM
    not your best, mike

    writing is articulate enough, but the argument is unsound. Seems like youre annoyed that the football players arent as arrogant as they should be. "They don't give off that `big men on campus' feel"? That is, most certainly, a good thing. Its about time for student priorities to be reorganized. We should recognize more than just muscle size.

    Go, er, Blair Golf!! W000T!!
  • nino on November 14, 2005 at 4:38 PM
    who says all students athletes have to be out going? maybe some are just shy.
  • Christian on November 15, 2005 at 1:56 PM
    Footbal is roxor!!!!!
  • John Macdonald (View Email) on November 17, 2005 at 10:02 AM
    I enjoyed the article and, even more so, the comments below associated with the article. Since I am quoted in it, let me defend what I said in my own words. I understand Bushnell's "Big man on Campus" theory better than the readers who criticised it, but those are not the words I used.
    My point is that athletes used to be held to higher standards than they are now. These standards seperated them from others in the school and made them admired by their peers. They represented the school and were proud to do so. They distinguished themselves by wearing their letter jackets and they supported other sports in the school and because they did this and were also leaders of the school (in the building too and with academics), they were looked up to.
    They were, in fact, special because they took these responsibilities seriously. I am not saying that actors or musicians or scholars in the school should not be recognized or held in high esteem by their classmates. Quite the contrary, but that is not the subject of this article. I am saying that many of todays HS athletes don't distinguish themselves from their peers in the way that they used to and this is not serving them well with regard to notariety and fan support which is the subject of the article.
    Football and basketball games should be attended by Blair students for social reasons if not to support athletes that may or may not be role models any more. The idea used to be hanging out with your friends and cheering for your school. Of course it helps when the players are good kids and friends to those in the stands or if they are a winning team, but it should be all secondary to the social experience.
    If you are interpreting this article to mean that athletes should be treated better than non-athletes, you are missing the point. They should be held to higher standards and we (the Blair community) should support them because they represent us.
  • Anonymous on November 20, 2005 at 4:29 PM
    I agree with Mr. Macdonald. If you are going to go out on the field with a Blair jersey on you must do your part to represent the school off the field as well. Players should be held to higher character standards. This should also be true for the marching band, jazz band, or any other group representing the school. They were chosen to represent the school and if they fail to do their part, I'm sure there's plenty of others who would love to put on a Blair jersey and be responsible on and off the field.
  • '05 on December 5, 2005 at 9:33 PM
    The administration removed the diva dancers from the pep rallies, and all other forms of pep raising stuff from them other than the cheerleaders (who weren't really that good) and nobody wanted to go to pep rallies anymore. I knew lot's of people that would rather stay in class and that is just sad. They then continued to systematically crush every other form of spirit raising activity in the school, from smacking down our great break dancing team to creating completly absurd (and illegal according to montgomery county law) penalties for Senior skip day.

    This is the administration that created the rule(thankfully since destroyed) a while back that if they catch you comming late to class they force you to miss the whole class and get an unexcused absense. And now they are trying to force what you eat. The administration is more anti-student than any school administration I have ever heard of and the one thing they have consistently done is alienated the student body and tried to crush school spirit. If it wasn't for some pretty good teachers, students, and parents, I doubt blair would have even the little shred of spirit it has now.

    If you want school spirit, find a way to get a new administration that actually cares about something other than their paycheck and treating kids like criminals.
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