by Larry Austin
Grand Island High School has moved well beyond just a fire and a football game for its homecoming.
The school is in the midst of celebrating Spirit Week, which concludes Saturday with the Homecoming football game at 2 p.m. against Starpoint and the Homecoming Dance.
"Kids at this school really jump into this week, and they really show that they're proud of being Grand Island students," said GIHS teacher Bob Simpson, who is in his fifth year as advisor to the Student Council, which runs many activities at the school, including Spirit Week.
Simpson estimated some Spirit Week events will see 90 to 100 percent participation by the student body.
He said Spirit Week offers "a chance for the kids to have fun at school, so it's more than just going to class. Obviously that's the huge part of it, but you can also have fun and enjoy your high school experience, and that's what I love about it."
"Kids go all out," Simpson said. "On this week, they enjoy showing up, they feel like they're a part of something."
Thursday was class colors day, followed by the bonfire and powder puff game at night. Friday morning, Spirit Week reaches a crescendo with the annual pep rally in the gym, which Simpson said has evolved to include traditions from his alma mater at Kenmore East, as well as ideas he's borrowed from other schools.
Traditions of the pep rally will include an hour of games pitting classes against classes, such as blindfold musical chairs, a football uniform rally race, and deal or no deal game for cash, plus GIHS traditions such as male teachers vs. the football players in tug of war, and the Homecoming king and queen and their court will be chosen. The rally's climax is chants of "blue" and "white" as teacher Kevin Murray stomps his blue shoe and white shoe on the gym floor in a longstanding tradition that defies explanation.
"Coming to Grand Island, I still quite don't understand it," Simpson said of the tradition. "Kids go nuts for it. I still don't get it. That's been going on for years and years and years."
This year, the class that scores the most points at pep rally will choose an assistant administrator, Michael Lauria or Andres Arroyo, who they want to pie, Simpson said.
"Mr. Arroyo will probably be taken," Simpson said confidently.
Simpson said his goal is to hold a major monthly student event, with each improving on the last. In October, the council will hold a haunted house and Halloween dance.
"Every single month, we're trying to do something big, bigger and better," Simpson said, adding that the philosophy is to give kids safe options for fun.
"It keeps kids out of trouble. We have over 800 kids there every single year," Simpson said of the pep rally. Between 700 and 900 are expected for the Homecoming Dance. Those are big numbers considering the school has about 1,100 enrolled.
"That whole old saying that it's not cool to have school spirit? Not here. Kids get into it and it's fun and it's one of the best times of the year."