High School Football

Loud. Crazy. Spirited: Midlands Friday night lights are not just for football players

Bryce Manley waited patiently outside the gates of Chapin High School’s Cecil Woolbright Field.

It was about 90 minutes before kickoff between the Eagles and Spring Valley on Sept. 20, but Manley was ready to get started. He wasn’t alone as other members of Chapin’s student section were ready to enter the stadium.

The gates opened, and Manley and the Chapin students headed to the far end of the home stands and started filing in to get ready for the game. Manley — whose official title is ‘Pep god’ of the Chapin Pep Club — is charged with getting the students fired up each Friday night. His duties begin way before each Friday’s game.

Manley is in charge of the school’s social media pages and decides each week’s spirit theme. He gets input from other students and comes up with themes such as this particular week’s: “Gym Class Heroes.” Students wore their favorite basketball, baseball and football jerseys to the game.

Manley also has to make sure students pack the stands each week. He gives incentives such as gift cards to the best dressed each week.

For the most part, Manley said he doesn’t have to beg too much for students to be there because they genuinely want to be a part of it.

“It is super fun to be a part of this. It is the best time ever,” Manley said. “I had older siblings that came through Chapin High School and they were always way into the student section. We didn’t necessarily have a pep club president or pep god, but we still had a good atmosphere and wanted to support each other.”

About 300 students attended the game against Spring Valley. Manley said Chapin gets between 200 and 400 students every home game, and 100 or more when the Eagles play on the road. The students are loud and Manley has his megaphone to keep the crowd energized through the game. A smoke machine gets going when the Eagles run down the hill to take the field.

The students maintained the energy throughout the night. When the game went into overtime, the students made their way to the other end of the stands to cheer on the Eagles, who won 43-40 on Roger Pedroni’s touchdown run.

“We’ve got the best student section in the country,” Chapin football coach Justin Gentry said. “Everyone keeps talking about the best student section in the state, but my opinion we have the best one in the whole country. They pack the house every Friday night and bring an energy with our guys, and our guys feed off their energy and vice versa.”

Chapin’s student section earned national recognition in 2016 as Varsity Brands named it the Most Outstanding Student Section in the country, and Gentry has watched grow in the 10 years he has been at the school. Chapin always had a spirited section but it has grown even more in the last decade as the school has grown in size. Chapin used to be a Class 2A school and now it is in 5A, the state’s largest classification.

“It was good when I first got here. We had a very involved student section, smaller numbers,” Gentry said. “One thing we felt we needed when we got here was to change the culture and environment, and we needed student government help, ROTC, the community. I think this is what it has morphed into.

“It isn’t one person. It is a whole group effort.”

Chapin is just one of the student sections in Midlands that creates a special environment on Friday nights and throughout the sports season. The State talked to representatives of different student sections in the Columbia and Lexington areas about how Friday nights come together.

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The Gilbert Indians student section Jeff Blake Jeff@JeffBlakePhoto.com

What makes a good student section?

AC Flora: When everyone is dressed in the theme for the game and every grade, 9-12, is loud and participating in cheers and when everyone gets into the game.

Cardinal Newman: A good student section is a section that is loud, proud and is into the whole game no matter the score. A good student also has great leadership from the seniors and upperclassmen.

Dutch Fork: A good student section is dependent on those who fill it. The students must be spirited, excited to be there, eager to support their team and willing to participate.

Gilbert: A big part of a good student section is participation. When everyone is dressed up, into the game, and loud. That’s what makes the student section fun.

Heathwood Hall: A good student section is full of people from all ages. It is not about a group of upperclassmen cheering on the team. It is about the entire school cheering on together. In addition to everyone being together, it looks nice when everyone dresses up for the theme. Easy themes make everyone look more cohesive.

Lexington: A good student section is made during the school days on Fridays. When we are excited at school, we bring the hype to the game. The themes also add more fun to the games. A good student section is also made when everyone is engaged and cheering with everything they have for the Wildcats.

River Bluff: I would say it’s not just the people leading it, it’s the crowd that comes along with it. Everyone matters. I feel like everybody getting involved and screaming for the school we go to. We all love it. The louder the better. Honestly, that’s what makes a great student section.

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The Dutch Fork student section Sean Rayford Special to The State

What makes your school’s student section different?

AC Flora: Our student section is different because all grades come to the game and we have a bunch of people with high energy, and we are the best football team in the state and we know and we get hyped for it.

Cardinal Newman: Our student section is different because everyone has pride in our athletic programs at Cardinal Newman and we all communicate through group chats with themes and such.

Chapin: We definitely think we are the best. We have a good family atmosphere here and everyone loves to support each other. A lot of schools don’t have that.

Dutch Fork: Our student section has a backbone of Silver Fox Pride. We support all of our programs and they support us back. Our passion and spirit set us apart. Cheering for a team like Dutch Fork is a unique experience.

Gilbert: The student section (as well as the rest of the Gilbert fans) is always there to support our boys. Gilbert is a small school and a small community. But you can bet on Friday night, no matter where the game is, Gilbert fans will fill up the stands and rally behind our team.

Heathwood Hall: Most people know each other so everyone is comfortable cheering together, talking to each other and helping anyone out before or after the game. We are all one. We invite freshmen to get ready with us before. We have freshman in the front sometimes, even a middle schooler or two. It’s important that we all cheer together instead of all seniors in the front.

Lexington: Our student section is different because it doesn’t matter to us if you are a freshman or senior. We want everyone giving everything they have and we make it a family atmosphere. It’s almost like another team that we have at our school.

River Bluff: Our student section is different is because we go all out for every single theme; everybody participates. There isn’t a single person that doesn’t. Even if a person doesn’t bring something for the theme, there’s always extra to give out.

What’s the craziest thing your student section does?

AC Flora: One thing we do is make a tunnel for the players when they walk out before the game. We are all screaming, it becomes really hype and the players are ready to go. Also when we beat Chapin these last two years, we crowd surf the freshmen.

Dutch Fork: One really exciting thing our student section does is throw powder at kickoff. It’s a sight to see from the stands and the field.

Gilbert: The coolest thing my student section has done was on homecoming three years ago. The theme was a “red out” and we had someone dress up as Moses and “part the Red Sea.”

Heathwood Hall: Whenever we are about to score or maybe the other team and the game is close, we all run to the end zone and get quiet (when we are on offense) or get really loud (when we are on defense). It’s funny and also cool to see 100 students running down the field all at the same time. But we all celebrate together if we score a touchdown. At the Wilson Hall game we went to the end zone when WH was about to score. And they were first and goal and they didn’t end up scoring. It was great.

Lexington: We love doing the roller coaster between third and fourth quarter getting ready for the last quarter and getting everyone engaged. The whole student section acts like we are on a roller coaster and they all mimic what the laser does. We will bring confetti to the games for touchdowns and that is always a fun and exciting time.

River Bluff: We’ve done some crazy things. I don’t know if we can put that in the newspaper. Honestly, we throw flour everywhere, we have silly string. A megaphone. Sometimes we say some things that maybe we shouldn’t, but it’s all good.

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The Lexington Wildcats student section Jeff Blake Jeff@JeffBlakePhoto.com

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The Blythewood student section Dwayne McLemore dmclemore@thestate.com

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The White Knoll student section Sean Rayford Special to The State
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Lou Bezjak is the High School Sports Prep Coordinator for The State and Island Packet. He has covered high school sports in South Carolina for 16 years and is a two-time South Carolina Sports Writer of the Year by the National Sports Media Association.
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