A spirited approach to Blair

June 5, 2009, midnight | By Vicky Lai | 12 years, 11 months ago

For this dedicated Blazer, spirit week is all year long

Like a typical media assistant, she handles overdue books, checks materials in and out, orders new books and magazines and scans IDs for student computer use. But hidden away in the back of the media center is a collection of "Blair paraphernalia" that students and staff have given her over the years, a reminder of her presence at Blair as the Spirit Lady.

The Spirit Lady, also known as Susan Madden, will leave Blair because she is being transferred to John F. Kennedy next year. Although she will miss Blair, her spirited past is sure to leave her with memories of her time here as a parent, volunteer, staff member and, of course, the Spirit Lady.

Madden began her time at Blair as the PTSA co-president in 1995 and then joined the Blair staff as a media center assistant in 1996 to be closer to her son. Though it wasn't part of her job description, she began helping with each and every school activity, from selling temporary Blazer tattoos to athletes on Fridays to chaperoning field trips as a parent to baking. "I was one of those parents who didn't know how to say no," she admits. Madden soon realized that students noticed her contributions when they began to approach her in the hallways or at games, especially during school spirit weeks, and comment on her limitless spirit. When several students started calling Madden the "Spirit Lady," the name stuck.

Unofficial side job as Spirit Lady aside, Madden still feels it's important to enforce school policies like the ban on food in the media center. "It's only because I have to follow the rules, you have to follow the rules," she says. Though a strict enforcer, Madden enjoys her "wild and wacky" side more than anything else. "I can be serious, but I prefer having fun," she says. Financial assistant Donna Franklin, who exercises with Madden every morning, also appreciates the youthful part of Madden's personality. "She's like a kid, a kid that never grew up," Franklin says.

Staff senior pranks

When football season comes around, Madden takes her spirit from the library to the sidelines. Attendance secretary Roxanne Fus says that Madden supports athletes by helping with senior nights for football and basketball and attending their matches. "They kind of count on seeing her at the games," Fus says. When Madden noticed low fan support at football games, she took the suggestion of a media specialist and started the Spirit Club in the late 1990s. She also likes to say that she's "adopted" the football team. "I was there for that parent who couldn't be there," she says. However, she doesn't always act like a typical parent - Madden once dressed up in a cheerleader's outfit and cheered for an hour. "No adult would do that," she says.

In addition to rooting for Blair's athletes, Madden works to boost teacher spirit. Each year, she tries to introduce herself to all the new teachers and welcome them to Blair. She even went so far as to start making fun survival kits for teachers last year. Madden says that Fus joins in on her "antics" too. The two, who have known each other ever since their kids were in kindergarten together 20 years ago, have established long-standing traditions including wearing the same hats during school spirit weeks.

The duo's fun goes beyond their matching hot dog hats and St. Patrick's Day berets. One year, when they found out that former principal Phillip Gainous' siblings called him "sonny boy," the two posted a sign on his parking space that said "Parking for sonny boy." Madden appreciates the fact that other teachers are also willing to engage in her fun and games, proving that Blair is not purely about academics. "I like that the staff has a sense of humor," she says. "We do have moments when we can be just as wild as you guys are."

Madden finds all her efforts worthwhile when she discovers her "wild" side has left an impression - staff members seek her approval with Halloween and Wacky Day get-ups, while other students and staff bring her assorted Blair-related items, such as a picture frame with devils and a tail on it. She says that often, along with stuffed animals and other gifts, people tell her, "I saw this and I thought of you." Madden has also accumulated senior shirts after getting one every year since her daughter graduated in 1997. "I want to be supportive of the place I work and of the students."

Spirited away

This year's senior shirt will be her last, as Madden must say goodbye to the Blazers and join John F. Kennedy's Cavaliers. She thought she would retire from Blair and dreamed that, as a gift, the school would name Blazer Stadium after her, joking that she'd have been the first woman in Montgomery County to have a stadium named after her. After learning that she was leaving, she took matters into her own hands. At the last pep rally, the Spirit Club that she sponsors helped her decorate the stadium and put up a banner at the entrance that read "Welcome to the Spirit Lady Stadium."

Madden jokes that she plans to copyright her nickname and hopes that her Spirit Lady legacy will live on at her new school. "The Spirit Lady's just taking her spirit someplace else," she says. Nevertheless, the loss of such a valuable source of spirit will leave behind a void at Blair. "I'm going to miss Ms. Madden. She was a fun person, and it's going to be hard to find someone to replace her," says sophomore Mary Nguyen, a member of the Spirit Club. "You can't find someone as fun as Ms. Madden."

Ultimately though, instead of visiting often, Madden wants to make a clean break from Blair in order to start anew. "I rode the wave and now it's coming in the shore," Madden says of the exciting ride here at Blair that must now come to an end. She gestures wildly to illustrate her point and breaks out into a Beach Boys song, something no other member of the Blair staff would do.

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