In defence of school spirit

Dear Mike:
As members of the administration at Fort Frances High School, we read Mr. Kim Cornell’s letter to the editor in the Nov. 10 edition of the Fort Frances Times with a great deal of interest.
We certainly appreciate Mr. Cornell’s interest in the school and the school community. The more parents we can have actively involved in the school, the better the school.
However, many of Mr. Cornell’s points may have been the result of misinformation. We are particularly concerned about the statement that students “don’t seem to get a lot of support for their ideas.”
As vice-principals at Fort Frances High school, we want to go on record as saying that Mr. Ian Simpson, principal of Fort Frances High School, is one of the most inspired supporters of extra-curricular activities, and particularly athletics, that we have had the opportunity to work with.
In our opinion, his support of extra-curriculars should be a model for school administrators across the province. Below is a list of the points made by Mr. Cornell and our response to each:
1. Display all NorWOSSA and NWOSSAA banners won by school teams on the gym wall. I understand that the administration says the most recent banners cannot be found.
Let’s celebrate our athletic achievements.
Mr. Cornell is correct in the fact that the most recent banners are not yet hanging in the gymnasium. Knowing Mr. Simpson, we are sure this situation will be corrected as soon as possible.
However, no less than 22 championship banners currently are displayed in the Fort Hugh gym—a testament to the school’s athletic success. It was Mr. Simpson who supported the idea of displaying banners of championship teams and he has always managed, in this time of fiscal restraint, to come up with funds to purchase these banners.
It is unfortunate that there was a delay in hanging last year’s banners.
2. Allow students to attend sports events during school hours. The NorWOSSA court sport finals will be held at the high school on Friday and students will not be allowed to attend.
This event only comes to the school once every three years. Students should be encouraged to cheer for their local teams.
Mr. Cornell is absolutely right—students should be encouraged to cheer for their local teams. Unfortunately, given the set-up of the NorWOSSA league, our local teams would not be playing during the school day.
In order to accommodate the travel of visiting teams, and to make sure that teams have ample time to rest between the semi-final and final games in a one-day tournament, the NorWOSSA ‘AA’ finals are held following certain timelines and using all facilities of the hosting school.
The Muskie volleyball teams both had finished third during the regular season, so therefore had to play in the semi-final game in the small gym to accommodate the basketball semi-finals in the large gym (basketball cannot be played in the small gym as the court is not regulation size).
The small gym has very little room for spectators so no classes were dismissed to watch these games. We can assure you that had either Muskie volleyball team been victorious in their semi-final, we would have encouraged teachers to bring classes down to support the teams in the final.
Unfortunately, both volleyball teams lost in the semi-finals.
The success of both girls’ basketball teams meant that they earned a bye to the league final, which must be played after regular school hours in order to allow the winner of the semi-final games adequate time to rest and recover.
Therefore, all of the games that took place in the large gym during the school day involved teams from Dryden and Kenora. We do not believe that allowing Fort High students to miss class in order to watch two other schools compete would help enhance school spirit.
Mr. Simpson has long advocated a two-day league final format so all games could be played in the hosting school’s primary gymnasium, but this proposal has never been supported by the majority of coaches or schools in NorWOSSA.
In certain circumstances, the present playoff format can see the host school not have any teams participate in their own primary gymnasium during the school day. Unfortunately, this happened to Fort Frances this time around.
3. Have assemblies in the gym at least once each semester so that the entire student body can attend. Make them fun. Teachers need a venue to share a laugh with the students.
We agree that any opportunity to share a laugh with students is appreciated, but we do not believe a “whole school” assembly is the answer. We do not have seating for the entire student body. Our gymnasium bleachers can accommodate about 400 people and our student body numbers around 1,000.
We lack chairs to accommodate the surplus and the cost to purchase chairs would be prohibitive in relation to the number of times they would be used.
On the rare occasions that we have asked students to sit on the floor for assemblies in the gymnasium, they have been very reluctant to do so.
We feel very fortunate to be able to conduct student assemblies in the beauty and comfort of the Townshend Theatre. While using the theatre does mean each assembly has to be repeated to reach the entire student body, we feel this is a very good situation for all involved and does not need to be changed.
However, we will examine the feasibility of doing this in the future.
4. Allow a Homecoming parade. This year’s parade was cancelled due to highway construction. Opening the gate between J.W. Walker and the high school could have alleviated these concerns.
Mr. Cornell’s point is well taken and the parade issue will be revisited. However, as school administrators, we can assure you that no single event during the school year causes us more concern than the Homecoming parade.
To take a parade from the west end all the way downtown, and back again, is extremely difficult to supervise and there have been problems every year.
The Homecoming parade was a tradition that was fostered when the high school was located downtown as the student body paraded triumphantly to the Westfort field to show school spirit and support the football team. Now that the school is located directly adjacent to the football field, does the significance of the parade still apply?
We want to support the whole idea of Homecoming, but maybe it is time that other alternative activities replace the parade. These activities could involve a much wider cross-section of the student body than the few who choose to construct floats for the parade.
5. Schedule the Homecoming football game and pep rally during third and fourth period so that students may attend. This year’s game was after school.
We could not agree more that students should have the opportunity to attend the Homecoming game. Before our school’s entry into the WHSFL, the daily schedule was modified so that regular classes ended before the Homecoming game started.
Overall, the Muskies involvement in the WHSFL has been very positive, but the Winnipeg teams have refused to travel to Fort Frances in time for a 1:30-2 p.m. start.
This is not an administrative decision but we, as a school administration led by Mr. Simpson, will continue to lobby for an earlier start to the Homecoming game. It takes all the lustre off the game if all students have to leave to catch buses just as the game is beginning.
6. Support the idea of the student executive council and the athletic association. These are your spark. These students are trying to create enthusiasm, but don’t seem to get a lot of support from the administration for their ideas.
Mr. Cornell is entitled to his opinion. Our experience has been otherwise. We have seen Mr. Simpson do everything possible to support extra-curricular activities in all areas. Much of this has been done behind the scenes.
His involvement in NorWOSSA athletics over the last quarter-century has been without equal as a coach, convener, and league delegate. He has served on the league executive for more years, and currently is the provincial principal’s representative to OFSAA.
His reputation for devotion to students and student athletics is known across our province. His connections at OFSAA, and knowledge of the bidding process, were key factors in Fort Frances landing both the 2000 girls’ soccer championships and the 2006 boys’ hockey championships.
He supports NorWOSSA sports at all levels and has been extremely supportive of athletic programs, such as the swim team and cross-country programs, which do not exist in many other NorWOSSA schools.
With all due respect to Mr. Cornell, to say that Mr. Simpson and the high school administration do not support athletics is simply wrong and unfair.
In regards to supporting the SEC and the Athletic Association, we would hope that Mr. Cornell has spoken to the key people involved in those organizations over the past few years as he has formed this opinion. We would refer specifically to Doug Judson and Andrew George, the 2003-04 SEC and Athletic Association presidents, respectively.
We know they have thanked the administration publicly for their support in year-end gatherings. If they feel differently in private, we certainly would be interested in hearing from them.
There is no doubt there is room for improvement at Fort Frances High School. We always are looking for ways to make the school a better place. Under Mr. Simpson’s direction, we will look closely at Mr. Cornell’s suggestions. However, because of the strong leadership provided by Mr. Simpson, we feel we are very conscious and supportive of school spirit.
Unfortunately, the high school of the 1950s and 1960s is gone forever. Just as the time demands on adults has seen the demise of the 96-rink bonspiel, weekly adult dances, etc., high school students also have many more demands placed on their time.
We may never see packed bleachers for the Homecoming game nor 700 students at a Muskie hockey game again. However, that does not mean school spirit does not exist.
Anyone who was in our school for the recent “Fear Factor” activities put on by the Fort Frances High School chapter of OSAID could bear witness to the fact that school spirit is alive and well in Fort Frances High School.
Could it be better? Absolutely. But we feel that we, as an administration, work very hard to promote school spirit and Mr. Simpson’s leadership is key in that endeavour.
Yours truly,
Gord McCabe, Mary Hickling,
and Brent Tookenay
(Vice-Principals, F.F.H.S.)

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