“Welcome To Da Bay” — if you’re sitting on the visitors’ side at Airline Stadium on a Friday night, you can’t miss this sign.
And you certainly can’t miss the dozens of students in the stands behind it, cheering the Vikings on. They stand the whole game. They have routines and chants. Only when Airline has the ball or there’s an injury on the field are they relatively quiet.
“I feel like it’s not about cheering for the individual or the grade levels. We all come together as one,” said Gillian Clark, senior and first-year student section leader for Airline High School. ”It is important to leave the drama of the game off the field and cheer for the team. We don’t look at the scoreboard and focus on if we are winning or losing. Our team plays all four quarters so we cheer all four quarters. We want them to know we support them, win or lose.”
Senior Nick Berry, also a first year student section leader for Airline, said he has to be loud, outspoken and outgoing.
“Our job is to lead cheers and keep the crowd going. We want to give encouragement to the football team on the field.”
Da Bay is next to the Airline band, and it can get very loud when the opposing team has the ball.
Berry illustrated this point by noting, “I lost my voice after the first game from yelling so much.”
Not long ago, pep squads and adult fans provided the main support for teams at most high schools. Students were part of it, too, but often they were scattered in groups throughout the stadium. Football Friday nights were social events.
They still are, but things have changed.
Now you’ll find student sections on the home side of most Bossier Parish stadiums. Most student sections also travel with their teams, too, especially if the game is against a local opponent.
In Bossier Parish, Airline usually has the most students, Rowland estimates an average of 500-600, with Parkway’s a close second.
Airline senior offensive lineman Peyton Coker said the student section can be a big advantage for the Vikings.
“It’s a huge advantage for us during the game just to have a loud student section with everybody getting involved, creating like the 12th-man atmosphere almost,” he said. “But from a personal level, it’s encouraging to see people you go to school with every day that are supporting you and the fans by cheering and being involved and tuned in to the game.”
“It’s key to our team,” said Airline Principal Jason Rowland. “We view it as another part of the game, another support group like band, cheer, and dance. This is one way they can be involved with game and play just as big a part in the event as the other support groups.”
Parkway coach David Feaster believes the student section along with the other fans can affect the outcome of a game.
“I really do believe the fans have an impact and I think the student section is the key point of that focus of the cheering,” he said. “Absolutely it means a lot to our guys.”
Feaster, in his fourth season as head coach at Parkway, said he’s seen the student section grow, especially since the school moved up to Class 5A.
Like football teams, student sections have rivalries with other schools’ sections and like to chant back-and-forth during games. Byrd’s “Hive” is the biggest student section in the area.
“Our student section quickly realized that the only way they can win the cheering contest is to win the football game,” Feaster said “There’s no way one student group can outcheer another student group if that team loses.
“So what it does for them, it motivates our student body to pull for the team to do well. And it makes a great atmosphere inside the school because now it becomes a school-wide ballgame, not just the football team is over here and the cross country team is running tomorrow over here and some other group is doing something else over here.
We’re all kind of united for at least one night on Friday night.”
When Reynolds Moore became the head coach at Benton last year, one of his priorities was to energize the student body. Benton now starts selling discounted student tickets on Wednesdays.
Moore said he’s been at schools where the support was great and at others where it wasn’t. He knew at Benton he had an opportunity to rally the community around the program. But he wanted to make sure the students were involved.
“Our kids go to school with their classmates every day,” he said. “And I know what kind of influence both good and bad that peers have on each other, and I know what school spirit and school pride can do for an overall school atmosphere — a school year, not even the football season, but just school in general. It makes the school year better and so we really emphasize that.”
Moore said the students, especially this year’s seniors, have taken the idea and run with it.
“They’ve kind of led the charge and said, ‘Look, we’ve heard about Byrd’s student section and Airline’s and Parkway’s and Haughton’s and we’re tired of hearing about it,’ ” he said. “So they just kind got together and pushed it. They really wanted to do it.”
Moore said it’s inspiring for the players to look over and see the support when they’re waiting to run through the cheerleaders’ banner and onto the field before a game.
“I don’t know that anybody, especially our student body, I don’t think they realize how much it means to our guys, to turn around and be able to see their classmates and their peers there cheering for them,” he said.
“And so, it’s a big deal to me. I think it’s great for our kids and great for our program and our school to have that source of support.”