by Abe Asher
What’s the biggest year-round activity at OES?
The Aardvark Dig.
Wait, no that’s not true.
It’s Spirit Squad, the brainchild of Charlie Buker, which has, in less than half a year, become a staple of the OES landscape and one of the most represented activities in school history.
The path to realizing the potential harnessed by the idea of enthusiastically promoting OES athletics and other events was a whirlwind, from the Presidential debate stage, to Jordan Elliott’s office, to the Senior Beach Trip, to phone calls with faculty members, to a triumphant Activity Fair showcase that reeled in 24 applicants to be Spirit Squad members.
It’s Charlie’s story, and he told it to me Thursday.
When Charlie was gearing up for a Presidential run last year, he turned his attention to areas that OES could improve in.
“I was going to a lot of the games, and I was annoyed,” Charlie told me. “Why aren’t more people coming to watch our state championship soccer teams and our entertaining volleyball team?”
“I love OES for so many reasons, but the one thing we don’t stack up with anyone on is school spirit. The best we can do is put 100 people on the sidelines for the homecoming game against Catlin.”
That’s when the idea of a Spirit Squad, in a rough form, was hatched.
“I thought if I could organize school spirit, it would be better,” Charlie said. “The main goal was to improve attendance.”
“This was kind of my baby last year – it essentially was my platform. I’ve been here for 14 years, and it was my time to give back.”
In fact, the Spirit Squad idea was outrunning the candidacy.
“While I was running, in my biology class, Jake P. asked me what the activity it is and why I would do it. So I explained the idea, and Rob (Orr) goes, ‘you know Charlie, if you don’t win, you need to do this.'”
Charlie ended up narrowly losing a very smooth and painless Presidential election – just kidding! – but pressed on with the idea.
That’s how he ended up, on the first Monday morning after the end of the 2014 school-year – on a World Cup gameday, no less – in Jordan Elliott’s office, pitching the Head of the Upper School on the importance of athletics, something OES has not always fully embraced.
“I said I really want to make this happen. I think it’s a great idea,” Charlie recounted.
“He said, you know Charlie, I think your enthusiasm is great, but this is something StuCo can do.”
There was a certain amount of naiveté in Jordan’s response, considering StuCo has neither the time nor the interest in consistently pitching sporting events, but also a certain naiveté in the original pitch.
Creating an activity isn’t impossible, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Not only does there have to be a faculty sponsor – there wasn’t one attached to Spirit Squad at the time – but the activity also has to be run through a department, as Echoes is run through the English department, and Science Bowl is run through the Science department.
So with a lot of leg work left to do, and a no bill from the school leader, the idea was dead in the water.
When school reconvened with the senior trip in September, Charlie was drawn to a group on the trip that dealt with improving school spirit.
His activity was an obvious step in the right direction. And then and there, a number of seniors – the one class that isn’t required to take an activity even once over the course of the year – committed to Spirit Squad if it ever got off the ground. Suddenly, the idea had life.
Charlie had two calls to make. The first was to Colleen Davis.
“Colleen was a slam dunk,” Charlie said. “Obviously this is a sports spirit activity, and her commitment took care of the department requirement.”
The second was to Dana Lewis.
“Dana is my advisor, and my school mom. I wanted two people on this, and I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather have,” Charlie said.
Both faculty advisors pointed out that because they have done other faculty obligations, neither needed to sponsor an activity.
When approached, Dana was in. “How do you say no to Charlie? We volunteering to do this. It’s been super fun.” Colleen jumped in too.
It’s been a good fit. “Dana is tiny but mighty. Her and Colleen are my enforcers,” Charlie said.
So with two well-respected, long-tenured faculty leaders on board, support ready-made, and the idea already familiar with the student body from the Presidential election. During timeouts in the Oregon – Michigan State football game (Go Ducks!), Charlie wrote a sort of mission statement. Spirit Squad was approved as an activity during the first week of school.
It’s been an enormous success. I’ve watched a ton of sports in my life, and by the end of the volleyball season, it was clear that OES didn’t just have a student section, but a home-court advantage.
“After the volleyball games, I knew that what we were doing was working. That team never lost at home this year, and we had a hand in that success,” Charlie said.
The activity has gone on to coordinate with the dining hall and the admissions office for hot water and pom-poms for state championship soccer games, and has expanded into promoting other school events like theater productions and the December Giving Tree.
“It’s evolving into something that’s not just sports. It’s about defeating apathy in the school,” said Charlie.
There are twenty students in the activity now, and the appeal is easy to see. The activity offers a relaxed, upbeat, relatively low-stakes atmosphere to contribute to the school in a meaningful way without doing too much work.
Embracing this kind of activity and what this activity supports is a different look for OES, but unquestionably a good one.
“I’m a lot happier here than I would have been if I had won (the Presidency),” Charlie told me.
He has faith that the activity will continue on after he graduates at the end of this year, and Spirit Squad is gearing up for the reveal of a major project they’ve been working on since the fall. The activity doesn’t seem to be losing any steam.
It’s been a triumph of student and faculty doggedness and perseverance. And while it won’t win any accolades for the school, it’s something of a triumph for OES too. With the right support and idea, you absolutely can flourish here. Spirit Squad is the living proof.