Walpole Has a School Spirit Problem

The reality of high school is not what is shown on television; that much is obvious. With modern developments, the modern high school student evolves past the stereotype exposed to on preteen channels growing up–and as students evolve, so does the atmosphere of the school around them, including that of WHS. The past few years at WHS represent an extreme transitional period. The most obvious beginning would be in March 2020 with the start of the pandemic. In June of that same year, the school committee unanimously decided to change a part of the school’s identity: the Rebel moniker.

Coming back to school these past few years after the pandemic, there has been a clear culture shift that can be easily seen walking through the hallways—a certain disconnect between students that did not exist before. The lack of school spirit can be seen in its most basic forms: the amount of students that do not participate in spirit weeks or pep rallies.

“I would describe Walpole High’s student culture as divided, because I feel as though there is no common student culture shared among the students,” senior class president Stephen Bond said. “I do believe that certain individuals have connections across clubs and activities at Walpole High, but as a whole, these groups feel very detached from one another.”

This phenomena cannot be attributed to logistical issues of events, such as last minute notice and no time for preparation. In-person events have come back at Walpole High, ones that used to pull great crowds from the community. Today, it is a significant undertaking to plan a successful event that will actually bring in members of the student body.

“It’s annoying when we put together events and plan everything that people ask us to plan while taking their suggestions during planning, but then the time comes for the event and they don’t care anymore,” Student Council vice president Sabrina Abate said.

Taking all of this into consideration, it is time to ask: What changed?

One aspect of spirit at WHS that has consistently existed has been support for the sports teams. The beginning of the Walpole super-fansection came in the fall of 2013, an idea that teacher Dave St. Martin had in order to bring about a more supportive and positive culture at WHS. Within weeks of being established, the student section was filling up at not only football games, but field hockey, soccer and basketball games too. Anywhere where there were stands, Walpole fans filled them. The Brigade, as the student section was named, continued for years to come–officially ending along with the name change that the entirety of Walpole went through.

From the ashes of the Brigade rose “The Pack,” which has made the attempts to bring back the school spirit lost at Walpole High during the pandemic. The Pack has been able to bring in the crowds to an assortment of games this year and last but it can still be evidently seen that there are some students who refuse to accept the new mascot.

“The history of the Rebel name does not have a great background as it has ties to [the] confederacy and other dark parts of our history, but at any school, when your name gets changed from something that has been a staple for many years, school spirit takes a dip,” Jason Finkelstein said, who runs The Pack Instagram account.

The uniforms may have been rebranded, and the hallways may be lined with Timberwolf merch, but the Rebel name can still be heard echoing from students at Friday night football games. While it may seem like the futile efforts of some, these efforts directly attribute to the lack of spirit at the high school. All of the disagreement and discord between those who are willing to move on versus those who are not creates unnecessary contradiction.

The Rebel name was a huge part of Walpole and something that most students were proud to be called. However, changing the Rebel name provided Walpole with a fresh start after a complicated, problematic history, and holding on to the bygone mascot only hinders change.

The fact of the matter is that underclassmen are being taught, implicitly or explicitly, that the Rebel identity is still a part of WHS culture. In reality, the Rebel name is not coming back, and there are already three classes worth of students at the high school who have never been students underneath it. Future generations will enter Walpole High School not knowing of the name, and to make sure they enter a place that is not plagued by the past, it is up to the current student body to create one.

“I think it is very, very good for students to be involved and get behind what is going on at school, but it’s not something that happens and just stays there, it has to be nurtured, it has to be exciting,” Principal Stephen Imbusch said.

School pride should not be tied directly with a name or a mascot. It should be tied to the real students at Walpole High who bring pride to the school every single day. It should be tied to the field hockey team for their consistent outstanding records, or to the cheer team for making nationals last year. It should tied to the Student Council for being a yearly recipient of the National Gold Award of Excellence, or to the Film program that has been featured in the Boston Globe. It should be tied to the Speech and Debate team for their outstanding performance at nationals in 2022. It should be tied to the Dance Company for their creative performances, to the drama production for their engaging shows, to the music department for their skillful dedication. All of the clubs within Walpole High, all of the small ecosystems that students are involved in, should bring a sense of pride to the school.

School spirit cannot be manufactured overnight. It cannot be bought and it cannot be faked. True school spirit must be real in order for it to actually have an affect. What is it’s importance? What was the purpose of writing this article?

School spirit is what makes school fun. A pep rally might seem corny to more cynical students, but it will develop lighthearted adolescent memories students can carry with them into adulthood. The camaraderie of school spirit is necessary at any high school, for this unity is what makes high school enjoyable. It is what makes the four years of high school bearable. It is what gets students through even the longest weeks. It brings home wins and medals and recognition for schools. It is what gets kids out of their comfort zone so they are more comfortable in college or at work. It is the experience that parents tell their kids about. It is the memories friends share years after graduation. It forces friendships, builds bonds, and creates the memories that are carried into the rest of life. High school may never be truly like the movies and shows depict it, but parts of it can be if students really believe in it.

“School pride is so important right now for the school given the divisive nature of the mascot change. I encourage everyone to accept that change and rally together. Yes, there are bigger things in life than a high school mascot,” class of 2014 alumnus and former Student Council president Jack Stedman said.

Being a Rebel versus being a Timberwolf should not hold such a difference over the student body, because at the end of the day both are just superficial ways of saying you’re from Walpole. And being from Walpole–a part of this community of creativity, hard work, honor and strength–should mean something to students.

Being from Walpole should surpass whatever pride there was for being a Rebel. The Rebel name represented WHS’s past, but not its future. WHS existed before the name, and it exists after. It’s up to the students to move on from it.