Will Barrett stood in the front row at nearly every Travelers Rest High School football game through the past three years. Merely a handful of his fellow classmates stood in the rows behind him.
Travelers Rest endured a 5-25 record through the past three years. The downtrodden Devildogs did not attract large crowds, but that did not deter Barrett’s enthusiasm.
“Some of us take pride in it, win or lose. The last few years we haven’t been a very good team, but we still have a very supportive student section,” said Barrett, who has noticed quite a few more classmates in the rows behind him this year.
Travelers Rest opened the season with three consecutive wins.
“We have a lot better turnouts now,” Barrett said with a laugh. “We have just nearly doubled.”
Barrett joked that some students may have packed the stadium just to enjoy a front-row view of school history. Yet, the student section is more than a good vantage point. It is the heartbeat of home-field advantage. It is a duty of devotion. It is a rite of passage.
The torch was passed to Hollis Lucas before he started his senior year at D.W. Daniel High. He carries it to every game. It is a simple push-up platform. Each time the Lions score, one student is lifted onto the board and grunts out a pushup for every point.
“Against West-Oak, we got up to 42 points, so it wasn’t me doing the pushups,” teased Chris Hancock, a fellow Daniel senior, who helps coordinate the student section’s elaborate weekly effort.
It is much more sophisticated than simply knowing what and when to cheer. Students plan theme nights and accessorize their wardrobes to commemorate special occasions — wearing gold for cancer awareness and American flags to honor Sept. 11 victims — or to poke fun at an opponent — cowboy hats and lassos when facing the Palmetto Mustangs or Hawaiian shirts and surfboards for the Easley Green Wave.
Student section leaders utilize social media to promote plans and ensure all interested students know what to wear each Friday night. Yet, Hancock rarely wears much of a costume. He joins a band of shirtless classmates who paint their chests to spell D-W-D-A-N-I-E-L.
Regardless of the weather.
“When it gets cold, honestly, we just suck it up,” Hancock said. “The paint isn’t very insulated. We just wear pants instead of shorts, I guess. We definitely don’t skip out on a paint-up opportunity.”
That brave troop stands next to a group of young ladies who wear painted tank tops and wave flags after each score to spell L-I-O-N-S.
The effort requires a pre-game spell check, although sometimes the designated editor misses a typo.
“In the first game, the girls ran the flags in the wrong order,” Lucas recalled. “Instead of L-I-O-N-S, they spelled ILONS. Now every time, we joke with them and say, ‘Make sure you have them in order.’”
According to Hancock, devoted members of the student section feel a sense of duty and dignity to incite other fans in the stands and to encourage players on the field.
“It’s awesome,” Hancock said, “knowing now as a senior that I’m one of the people that I used to look up to as a freshman and knowing the kind of influence we have, as far as how many people show up.”
That duty is not limited to home games. Hillcrest High senior Parker Brooks said student section leaders organize car pools to ensure underclassmen can fill the stands at away games. Last year, Hillcrest transported its student section to Columbia to cheer the Rams to a state championship.
“It was crazy. It got so wild. We were super loud,” Brooks said. “You didn’t have a voice left in the second half.”
However, that was a small, temporary sacrifice to create a memory that will last long after graduation.
“That is the biggest thing I’m going to miss about high school, just the student section,” Barret said. “It’s definitely been a huge part of my high school experience. I look forward to every Friday, because we know, even if we lose the game, we’re going to have a good time in the student section.”