Back in “the day,” that magical time when it seems so many things were so much better, cleaner and real, filling the basketball gym on a Friday night was as automatic as students battling back and forth with the classic cheer: “We have spirit, yes we do, we have spirit, how about you?”
To get the same electricity that once was just in the air in schools it takes more than just racking up the W’s.
Now, that spirit and passion that was once just part of the fabric of a community has to be infused, made part of the calendar and planned in advance.
The culmination of months of planning takes place Saturday when Medical Lake hosts West Plains rival Cheney in the seventh annual Golden Feather game.
While the focus will be on posters, carefully choreographed skits and colorful demonstrations of student and fan involvement, there are also a couple of basketball games that are the magnet that will draw the communities together. The girls’ game tips at 5:45 p.m. and the boys’ at 7:30.
“There are just multiple things outside the athletic realm,” Medical Lake athletics director Chris Spring said as he searched for reasons why spirit has to be artificially introduced into high school sports these days.
What was once a given, “Now it seems like everyone packs their Spirit Games, grasps onto those game to try to bring some sense of that world back to us,” he said.
“Ultimately it seems like, across the board from the GSL (Greater Spokane League) to the GNL (Great Northern) to Northeast A, you watch all the sports on the news Friday nights, every gym looks similar (empty),” Spring said. “It’s obviously not a Medical Lake sort of problem, it’s a high school problem.”
This will be the third straight year Cheney has provided the opposition. The two were once league rivals but this year’s contest will pit the Blackhawks from their familiar 2A GNL and the Cardinals in their new quarters in the 1A NEA.
“It’s the No. 1 high school memory our kids take away and remember is that week leading up to this game,” Spring said. And that’s not because of the basketball. “Basketball…I think the coaches sometime kind of shake their heads during the week and say don’t forget about us,” Spring said.
Each school tries to make rules that don’t disturb the learning environment for extended periods of time, Spring explained. “We only work on it for two weeks, but planning goes on weeks, if not months.”
That includes the skits, posters and artwork which all helps earn one of the teams the nod to win the coveted Golden Feather. Efforts are ongoing to keep the prep for the event outside the school day, Spring said.
The theme each year is an ASB decision. “We go out and get ideas from the student body, narrow it down to four,” Spring said. From there the event rests in the hands of the student council and administration for their approval to make sure it is appropriate.
The Golden Feather game started with West Valley, the opponents for four years and Saturday marks the third time the West Plains’ rivals will have met.
“We lost the first two with West Valley, won our last two which I think is impressive in itself with the differences in our student body size,” Spring said.
With wins in the first two Spirit Game competitions against Cheney, the Cardinals have now won the last four events off the court, and even collected a 49-40 upset win in boys’ play last year.
“We’re looking for Cheney to bring it big time this year,” Spring said. “By no means do we go into this thinking we’re something special.”
While spirit games in the Greater Spokane League and GNL are common – the “Groovy Shoe” between Shadle and North Central or University; Central Valley battle for the “Stinky Sneaker” and the “Golden Throne” featuring West Valley versus East Valley – they are rare in the NEA Spring said.
“Lakeside and Freeman are the only schools that do it,” Spring said.
There was an effort to keep the game within the framework of league play, Spring said, “But really the only ones that made sense were Freeman and Lakeside and both of them were already involved and wanted to keep that going.”
“So we just backed off and thought you know, what an opportunity to keep something clean and good going on the West Plains with the Medical Lake-Cheney thing.”
The history of the Medical Lake-Cheney rivalry, at times, wasn’t the most positive, Spring said. “As far as the rivalry there was some negativity in the games and the rules that we create for this particular game don’t allow for any of that,” Spring said.
While the spirit game idea is pretty new, the end result of Saturday’s Golden Feather lets us get a look at how things used to be.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.