“It was definitely important that I was a part of it,” said Scanlon, now a senior and an outstanding lacrosse player for the Eagles.
Gonzaga is one of the most successful football programs in the region with four championships at the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. The student department could be a reason. For large games, up to 400 Gonzaga students can stand elbow to elbow in the stands. It would be difficult to find a game that had fewer than 150 students.
In July, Scanlon was selected to lead the Student Booster Club – and therefore lead these chants. In a normal year, he planned the theme and cheer of each game and stood in front of the student cheering group, luckily if he didn’t get hoarse. Those chaotic, adrenaline pumping moments are obviously missing this fall.
It is serious business to be part of the Gonzaga student cheer group. New students learn what to expect from freshmen orientation when members of the student booster club storm the field in costumes and upset the newbies.
Many of these newbies will see their first soccer game in the back of the student department. Many student cheering groups have unwritten rules that the older students use to reserve places near the field.
Other students get a starter of what’s to come if they consider visiting Gonzaga. Malcolm Dread was in eighth grade when he saw the Gonzaga basketball team play in the WCAC championship at American University. Dread was wearing a purple Gonzaga T-shirt and snuck into the student department.
“I was really blown away because there were so many people in the gym and it was like everyone was screaming and singing,” said Dread, a standout basketball player who is involved with Richmond but not above joining the Student Booster Club this year .
At the beginning of each week, Gonzaga’s Student Booster Club members post the clothing theme for this week’s game on Instagram. Word gets around quickly in school. Sometimes the subject is as simple as anyone who wears white or black clothes. Once, when Gonzaga was playing the DeMatha Stags, the students wore disguise as if they were deer hunting.
There’s no telling what kind of costumes you will see. The group leaders of the student cheers wore banana suits, purple rompers, plaid skirts with bagpipes, and fur coats that go with shorts in cold weather. In the fourth quarter of the close games, the Gonzaga students take off their shirts and wave them in the air.
This fall, Scanlon planned to pick out any old costumes he could find in his basement, such as a goblin outfit or a Mad Hatter hat. Dread considered putting on a banana suit, lifeguard outfit, hot dog suit, and Captain Underpants costume.
Similar antics occur at some of the other spirited student departments in the region. At Centerville High, the student cheers group leaders wear a blue and blue spirit staff with a wildcat head attached to the base. Regardless of the theme of the game, body paint is a staple. Students place a box on the track that the leaders will stand on during the game, but due to damage it needs to be replaced about every two years.
“It’s really sad, frankly, because this is what we were all looking forward to: our senior year of high school football where the boys play,” said Clara Looney, a senior in Centerville. “It’s something that we miss out on these people, they can understand, but from our point of view it’s difficult.”
In Gonzaga, the tension for the football matches on Friday evening rises throughout the school day. There is a cheer rally before each game, the largest of which comes the week Gonzaga plays against his greatest rival, St. John’s. Students say attendance is mandatory. Many alums are returning. While the soccer team is sitting in the middle of the field, the students shout out loud.
For home games, Gonzaga’s Student Booster Club sometimes organizes food trucks that arrive outside the DC private school so students don’t have to leave campus to eat before the game. Students storm into the stands as the stadium gates open about an hour before kick-off.
Gonzaga students are always on their feet and many return home later with a sore throat. At the end of the game, Gonzaga’s players run to the cheering student group. Everyone raises their fist while singing the school alma mater.
But Gonzaga’s students weren’t always patient enough to wait for this post-game ritual.
In 2018, Gonzaga followed DeMatha in the WCAC championship at Catholic University’s Cardinal Stadium when time-out quarterback Caleb Williams threw a desperate 53-yard pass into the end zone. During the play, Gonzaga’s students said the prayer “Hail Mary” together. When they said “Amen,” broad receiver John Marshall caught the ball in the end zone and gave the Eagles the title in one of the most competitive leagues in the country.
The hundreds of students bumped each other in the stands and tried to run into the field to celebrate. They could not control the school’s student services. In a matter of moments, the fence that separated the stands from the field rolled over. The school had to pay for the damage, but that didn’t stop students from jumping, shouting, and singing on the pitch with soccer players.
Gonzaga Safety Kye Holmes said the student cheering group led the team to believe they could win. The senior has been leaning on his energy since he was a freshman. Before Holmes played his first varsity game at Good Counsel in 2017, one of Gonzaga’s students yelled at Holmes to “bring the juice.” That got Holmes going and cleared his nervousness when the Eagles won and moved to the WCAC championship game.
If there’s a WCAC football season this spring, Gonzaga’s student development club directors say they’ll have pent-up energy from virtual learning this fall. There is no better place for them to post it than with hundreds of classmates in Gonzaga’s bleachers.
“Whenever we come back,” said Holmes, “I guarantee it will be the best student section you have ever seen.”