The Story of Spirit Week

Taking a look at the origin of Spirit Week and its lasting significance to WCA.

February 19, 2020

Clayton+Francois+on+his+motorcycle+during+the+first+unofficial+WCA+Spirit+Week.+He+rode+his+motorcycle+through+the+school.

WCA Yearbook 1977-78

Clayton Francois on his motorcycle during the first unofficial WCA Spirit Week. He rode his motorcycle through the school.

Seas of each color of the rainbow, students decked from head to toe in their class color, paint and glitter adorning their faces. Hours upon hours spent during late nights in the Arena and blue gym, practicing Lip Sync and Boys’ Poms until every move is perfected. Hallways and Art Boards are decorated so as to defend the pride of each respective class. Riding piggyback or sitting upon each other’s shoulders, the seniors enter the Arena, hearing the familiar lyrics of their walk-in song blast from the speakers as the rest of the school honors their seniority. Class flags are waved with passion and ferocity as the rowdy boys of each grade stand in front and lead their classmates in cheers of “We’ve got spirit, yes we do! We’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you?”

Girls and boys from each grade toss a stuffed chicken around the gym as if their lives depend on it, and mattress surfers glide across the Arena floor with the help of their classmates who manage to keep the mattresses afloat. The Spirit Stick is fought for by each bold costume-wearer, and even teachers join their students in the inevitable excitement of the dress-up days.

And of course, the Big Night, where the victorious class gains eternal bragging rights, sings “We Are the Champions” at the top of their lungs, and earns a chance to hold (and even kiss) the coveted plaque.

This is Spirit Week. Westminster’s greatest tradition and the most anticipated week of every school year. For most Westminster students, and even many teachers, Spirit Week is simply an aspect (and a major one at that) of culture at WCA that seems to be so deeply ingrained in the school that most cannot even imagine Westminster without it.

But, Spirit Week at Westminster has a unique origin story, like most traditions do, and it has taken the contributions of thousands of alumni, current students, teachers, and faculty members (past and present) to arrive at the Spirit Week we know and love today. So, let’s take a trip down memory lane and explore how Spirit Week first began and how it has evolved over the years.

“Spirit Week began at the suggestion of Sue Tameling, who was a PE teacher here for many years. She had gone to a school in Michigan which had a similar week, and she thought that WCA needed a midwinter boost to give the students something fun and exciting to get through the bleak months of January and February. The first year was either 1988 or 1989. Lip Sync and Boys’ Poms were part of the week from the very beginning, but Lip Sync was really different. Only a few kids would be in it, and they would not choreograph it like everyone does now. Instead, a few students would do something like a Beach Boy or Beatles medley and act like they were playing the guitar or the drums. So, it was simple, small and not the production it is now,” said Dr. Scott Holley, upper school English teacher, who has been involved in the Westminster community since its founding in 1976 and has witnessed almost every Spirit Week.

As Holley explained, Spirit Week has been an essential piece of Westminster life in January/February for over 30 years now. According to the Westminster website, “Spirit Week 2020 will mark the 31st year of a tradition that is arguably the highlight of the year for the Westminster community!” This would mean the first official Spirit Week began in 1989 with the help of Elizabeth Lewis, former WCA French teacher and mother of Lizzie Vogel, WCA art teacher and 90’ alumni.

However, according to Curtis Francois, father of current WCA students Isabella Francois, senior, and CJ Francois, eighth grader, Spirit Week technically began during his second year (1977 – 1978) at Westminster, and this first year took place with only about nine teachers and 70 students involved. “Today, it is a much larger event. We were all so close back then, and so there wasn’t as much class rivalry. We were just all happy to be together and have fun,” said Francois.

Both Francois and Holley were eager to share some of their favorite memories and the most unforgettable moments from past Spirit Weeks. Although these events may have occurred decades ago, they will continue to live on in the memories (and yearbooks) of members of the WCA community, proving how significant Spirit Week has been to WCA from the very beginning.

“We had a 50s themed day and my brother (Clayton Francois) rode his motorcycle through the halls of Westminster. My brother Clayton also made a scooter for my favorite teacher Mr. John Boles to ride in the hallway which was hilarious,” shared Francois.

Holley also explained his favorite aspect of the week: “The best part is simply seeing how pumped the whole student body gets for the competition. It is hard to believe that such silly games become bigger than the Olympic Games for one week.”

There’s no denying Holley is right about the stakes of Spirit Week, especially for the seniors. As alumni have shown, these memories will not fade quickly, and they may end up being some of the most momentous events of all of high school. Of course, every senior’s goal is to end their final day of Spirit Week with a victory, a moment of triumph that unifies their class for the remainder of their high school careers.

Holley described what Spirit Week represents at Westminster: “It is an opportunity to step back from the academic pace of the school year and just have fun. Kids can be goofy, kids make friends with people they typically do not associate with, kids get to exercise talents that usually go unrecognized at school, and the whole school gets to celebrate crazy, loony, zany fun. When adults look back on their years at Westminster, they are not going to remember what went on in most of their classes; they will remember being part of Boys’ Poms or Lip Sync. And the senior classes that did not win Spirit Week will never forget that!”

Thankfully, the seniors this year will not live on in infamy for losing Spirit Week. Instead, the class of 2020’s name will occupy a permanent spot on the plaque, and as Holley claimed, we will be sure not to forget this victory.

But beyond the class rivalries, even between the juniors and seniors, Spirit Week remains a time of unity and celebration of overall school spirit. For one week, school, homework, athletics, and extracurriculars take a step to the side to allow community-building and quality time together as a school to take the forefront. There’s no other time in the year where alumni of all ages become so deeply involved again and where the entire school gathers together daily in elaborate displays of spirit and passion.

“My favorite part of Spirit Week is always Community Night because all competition gets pushed aside and the entire community comes together to see the amazing talent of students 7-12. It’s so filled with joy and great entertainment,” said Ashley Woodall, assistant director of student life who has been at WCA since 2002, participating in 18 Spirit Weeks in total.

Over the years, Spirit Week has certainly evolved, transforming from a small school celebration to a community-wide tradition. From wacky games to Lip Sync practices to extravagant art displays, Spirit Week has only seemed to grow and improve over time.

“Kids do Art Boards now, but at the old campus, students decorated entire hallways with really elaborate themed artwork. That wasn’t supposed to be in the mix, but the senior class the first year got so into the excitement of the week that they spontaneously decorated their hallway in blue and white for Friday of Spirit Week, and that gave the sponsors the idea to make that part of the week from then on,” said Holley, explaining how Art Boards first originated.

Compared to other schools, WCA’s Spirit Week just seems to have a little more pep. No one is “too cool” to participate, everyone wants to be involved, and there is truly an opportunity for every student to partake in.

“I can’t say for sure, but from what I hear, WCA is unique in how many students engage in Spirit Week. We have an incredibly high rate of participation in our dress-up days, and we have so many participants in our big events. Sometimes it looks like the whole class is out on the floor for Boys’ Poms and Lip Sync,” Woodall commented.

Senior Alyssa Legters agreed and shared her own thoughts on Spirit Week from the perspective of a teacher’s daughter and a student who was involved in the week-long before attending WCA: “I think Spirit Week to WCA means a time when the community comes together to support each other in their different interests, and it is a time where people’s passions such as film and dancing can shine rather than the usual spotlight on academics or athletics. Also, it’s a way for the different grades to come together and compete in a way that is totally unique.”

Spirit Week 2020 has come to a close, but fortunately, this tradition continues to live on and will undoubtedly thrive for decades in the future. The games and events may evolve, but the heart of the week will always remain the same: flourishing school spirit through unifying grade levels and encouraging students to explore their interests and dive passionately into the competition.

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