Redefining Bobcat Pride

Photo Credit of Pam Lovejoy

Plastered in capital letters, the words “HOME OF THE BOBCATS” is the first thing you notice upon entering the Oyster River High School’s gymnasium. The spirited words resonate with any student, visitor, or parent and serve as reminder for the high school’s pride. “Bobcat Pride” is a term you’ll hear and see frequently around the halls of Oyster River, as it’s attached in daily announcements, faculty emails, photos, slogans, and apparel, but what does the Bobcat Pride really mean?

 While Bobcat Pride is meant to encompass the entire identity of the school, some feel that it is a term exclusive to sports. Dave Hawley, a social studies teacher at OR, recalls back in 2003 when athletic announcements were not broadcasted during classroom time. The protocol came from faculty request, who felt that the interruption distracted from their teaching and preferred to share the announcements one on one with their class on their own time. Hawley notes that within a few years, announcements made a reappearance on the school wide intercom. “It’s a sporting conversation, and there’s a greater emphasis on sports today than there was prior… It’s different mindset. There was a mindset that, back in 2003 or 2004, made us an academic institution. And we still are, but it’s shifted a bit.” Hawley said he chooses to exhibit “Oyster River Pride”: a pride in the education given to students.

Photo Credit of Arleen Alphonse

The emphasis on sports as a point of pride has not only seemed to just come about in the last 10 years. OR alumna Wendy Gibson (1985) never recalls the term Bobcat Pride. “I would say there was not a lot of spirit that I remember. It was kind of apathetic.” As a current Spanish teacher at the high school and a former parent of OR students, Gibson has witnessed every angle of the school’s spirit, and how it’s transformed over the years. She concurred with Hawley, saying, “I see mostly that it seems to be tied to sports, which I don’t know if it really should be so just tied into sports because there’s a lot more that the school has to offer.”

Nick Riccardi, a head coach of the Oyster River track and field team and a culinary teacher, disagrees with this assessment. “Bobcat Pride can show itself on the stage in the theater, when you have concerts, your basketball games… I just think it’s bringing out the culture of the students and all the all activities we do.” As far as the concern about the term’s emphasis on athletics, Riccardi feels that Bobcat Pride isn’t confined to sports, it’s just a more populated sphere of the school’s community. “It’s not just athletics, but when 70 + percent of our school is partaking in athletics, it is good to have that pride… It’s part of the pride and the culture in our school whether it’s athletics or drama or music.”

While Oyster River offers a number electives, clubs, and programs pertaining to the arts, academics and social education, it seems that athletics unintentionally have taken a forefront in the community’s mind. When it comes to Bobcat Pride, Jackson Deely (‘20) immediately thinks of  the state championship banners hanging in the gym. “I think we’re really proud of how we do sports-wise as a school so we try to showcase that.” Deely is an athlete, participating in track and field, but also is member of student senate senate, track team, the Gay Straight Alliance, and sustainability club. Hailing from Barrington, he enjoys being an active part of his school community in an effort to show how much he wants to be at Oyster River after being waitlisted going into his freshman year. As a cooperative school district, Oyster River includes students from Lee, Madbury and Durham and recently began accepting a limited number of students from Barrington. Unlike other schools, whose students hail from one town or city, the cooperative must bring many people who live in a large spread out area together. For Deely, who lives 25 minutes from ORHS, athletics and clubs are a big part of what connects him with his high school community.

Deely fondly remembered last year’s championship basketball season, when the whole school came together to cheer for the boys team in the finals. “The other schools could see us come together and they were probably envious because we do like to go all out and we get competitive.”

This competitive spirit that Deely mentions is the what many fear is Bobcat Pride’s downside. “Particularly with sports, I think it can cause issues with sportsmanship,” Gibson shared her concerns with Bobcat Pride’s intentions. While having school spirit is almost always in good fun, too much can create unhealthy expectations in terms of competitiveness and unsportsmanlike conduct.“I think that could be the one downfall, when it becomes so much us against them,” Gibson concluded.  

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Photo Credit of Haley Brown-Bloom

Grace Henry, a senior on the OR girls cross country team feels that Bobcat Pride is is not exclusive to athletics, but simply manifests itself there. “Bobcat Pride is from the relationships you have with other people… With cross country, it really provides those connections, especially with people who aren’t in your grade. When you’re with each other training and working hard everyday it really forms a strong connection which translates to Bobcat Pride.” The team continues many traditions that focus on creating healthy and positive team culture, such as “warm and fuzzies,”  and reaching out an encouraging touch to teammates during races. Other teams around Oyster River carry out traditions with the same intentions of bringing teammates together not only by the commonality of the sport, but by building meaningful, close relationships . The girls soccer team does “team high fives,” while the boys team get haircuts before playoffs. The volleyball team gives teammates “secret bobcats” before every game and the ski team makes a routine trip to McDonalds after every race. Athletics serve as a beneficial outlet to form close relationships across the school and therefore bring students together. Morgan Kahn (‘20), a part of OR’s soccer team, concurs that athletics provide a consistent opportunity for friendship and unity. “Sometimes people can get lost between friend groups or hard times and it’s important for people to be there for one another.” Athletics provide a reliable platform to unify the school and foster Bobcat Pride.

One of the ways Bobcat Pride is promoted is through the annual Spirit Week. Spirit Week is an anticipated and exciting time that takes place in late September. Students are encouraged to dress up on each day of the week to take part in school wide spirit, and the week is capped off with a pep rally and field day on Friday. The purpose of the week is to bring together the school community. “We try to make it as close to a unified school as possible so that everyone feels that they’re able to participate,” says Laurel Gordon (‘19), a student senator. Most students cherish this time. “It’s a chance to have fun and let loose in school. It really makes people appreciate school and what we have,” according to Deely. While Spirit Week is meant to be a positive experience, some of faculty has their reservations.

While Spirit Week creates fun memories in school, it doesn’t always necessarily foster Bobcat Pride. Hawley criticized Spirit week, explaining, “It doesn’t facilitate school pride at all, it creates tribalism. It’s always been that way. In terms of spirit week, as it’s defined by other schools, at least the school I grow up in, we were unified with our school pride. But this has an unusual week where it pitts class against class, and that is uniquely Oyster River; it’s actually the antithesis of Oyster River.” Hawley’s opinion on the matter comes from 18 years of experience teaching at Oyster River.

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Photo Credit of Haley Brown-Bloom

Spirit week is kicked off on Monday with class color day, when each grade dresses in a different color. This is all in good fun, but it has the ability to create division, especially when the week ends with a pep rally/field day that is a competition between grades and faculty with the goal of seeing who can earn the most winning points. “It is definitely ‘us versus them,’ ‘freshman vs seniors’, but on the other hand that’s what gets people excited. We didn’t have that in our pep rallies and if we had had that, maybe we would’ve been more into it,” says Gibson. She agrees that class color day and field day competition creates division but might also be the driving force of the week’s exciting energy.

Despite some of faculty’s concerns with spirit week, the goal of the 5 day period is underlined by a desire to bond the school. Gordon confirmed: “The fact that we have class color days on Monday, and then by the end of the week we are all the same color for Blue and White is a symbol of the school coming together.” It comes down to the fact that by the end of the week, the entire school is one blue and white clad, unified front, and Bobcat Pride has manifested itself once again.

School spirit is an undeniably important part of the high school experience. No matter how and where you choose to display it, Bobcat Pride can be conveyed, “By being an active participant in the community, whether it’s as an athlete or a fan or a musician or a guest. You can show it by being a part of the community outside your classroom,” according to Riccardi.

School spirit is a vital aspect of the high school experience, but at Oyster River, it seems that specifically Bobcat Pride shows itself in no clear or uniform fashion. While Bobcat Pride may manifest in a variety of ways, the general consensus is that it is a feeling of community. Bringing students together through sports, clubs, arts or even during Spirit Week, Bobcat Pride is a sense of belonging and unity. Henry concluded that no matter how it’s shown, “[Bobcat Pride] is something that defines high school, that middle schoolers look forward to when they come to the high school, and something we can reminisce on when we’re in college and beyond.”

Written by Grace Castonguay