Take 1000+ students in grades 5 through 8 from five different states, put them on a small college campus in Portland, and have them compete in events like knowledge bowl, basketball, and music—and you have LEST, the annual Lutheran Elementary Schools Tournament.
To adults it sounds like a nightmare—middle school kids in the library, the cafeteria, the gym, the classrooms—but it is a fun three days, and for many students it’s one of the most memorable times of those tumultuous years between ages 11 and 14.
It wouldn’t be such a good time without the preparation and expectations of teachers combined with the vigilance and chaperonage of parents. Weeks before we left, I held classroom discussions about sportsmanship, being good guests, and school spirit. Especially school spirit.
The reality is that our school spirit at LEST in past years has been rather lackluster. While other schools in the gym were joining in cheers for their teams, ours was noticeably quiet. I told them how it used to be in the past, with parents tossing bags of red hots and Big Red gum into the stands. “Can we do that?” asked one excited young lady. I gave permission, and in the next few days she gathered a crew to help her assemble the bags. In Portland she not only threw bags at our fans, she had fun sharing them with other schools, too.
Because we have no cheerleaders, the 8th grade class has taken on the responsibility for leading cheers at the pre-LEST pep assembly. Initially, it was a handful of brave souls, but in recent years it’s been the entire class on the floor. This year the 8th grade upheld the tradition, leading cheers not only at the assembly but also in Portland. They were loud and they were proud, and they weren’t ashamed to show it.
But they didn’t just cheer at basketball games. They showed up in droves—parents in tow—at every event, from the drama production to the spelling bee to the choral festival. Wherever I went, I saw students in red, cheering loudly for everybody from our school, whether they were classmates or not. I had goosebumps more than once as I witnessed more school spirit than I’d seen in years.
Some good prep, a little pep, a few bags of candy, and a whole lot of “Our team is red hot!”–that’s all it takes to get middle schoolers wound up for a good cause.
We’ve got spirit, yes we do! We’ve got spirit; how ’bout you?