50 Years of Spirit Week Changes

Looking back on the changes of a 51-year of tradition

by: Chris Cicchiello

This year Spirit Week will be different in one critical way: there will be two pep rallies. The first is the traditional class tussle in which students proudly wear their blue, red, green or yellow.
However, the new one is a day of unity where the whole school reps the school colors. It will be a day remembering the last 50 years of school spirit, of ridiculous costumes, of pranks, and of invaluable memories. On that note, looking back at the Spirit Weeks of the ‘60s, ‘70, ‘80s, and beyond allows some insight as to the social climate and more importantly, the community of East Lyme High School.
Back in the ‘60s, East Lyme was little more than an extension of a farm on Upper Pattagansett Road. It was a homogenous podunk “cowtown.” In its first year, ELHS did not even have seniors and the first graduating class consisted of only 140 students. As for the Salem students, they attended Norwich Free Academy for high school. Needless to say, it was a different time. The principal, who leaned more liberal in his ideologies said once, “There are no rules. When you [students] do something wrong, we’ll make a rule to keep it from happening again.” And this liberal philosophy was what led to the birth of Spirit Week.
East Lyme High School was the first school in the surrounding area to have a week completely dedicated to students showcasing their talent, pride, and creativity. It was built around the Homecoming Game as it is.
As for Commons Decorating, this process has certainly undergone some alterations. For many years, each class claimed their own hallway to decorate with a theme. But everyone knew the seniors’ domain was the front desk area.
“Seniors would lock the doors and tape black paper over the windows so no one could see what they were doing. People were sworn to secrecy about the project. I guess it was easier to keep a secret back then because there was no social media,” said Contemporary Issues teacher Roseann Hardy.
Deciding that hallway decorating was leading students to paint on the walls, the school brought the decorating outside. Each class would find a parent with a trailer and build various floats from there. In the ‘90s, seniors constructed a float on which they were grilling food.
“Let’s just say that Spirit Week wasn’t as regulated,” said Ms.Gianakos.
That’s not to say that there were no consequences for some of the rowdy behavior from prior Spirit Weeks. In fact, Principal Mastretta actually pulled the plug on two of them.
Of all the traditions, one that stands out the most is the Viking Parade. On the Saturday after the pep rally, a parade was held in Downtown Niantic, in which the Homecoming king and queen would ride on the back of convertibles, with their court following behind. The band would perform and the whole town along with the school would watch the procession.
Another staple of Spirit Week has been senior pranks. Over the years, students have devised extremely creative plots. Back in the ‘80s, as teachers went to unlock their doors, they found that the handle was impossible to grip. Also, in the ‘80s, on Costume Day (later changed to Holiday Day and now Decades Day), a group of students became the Ghostbusters. Decked out in Ghostbuster attire, they had even managed to find replica of the film’s car.Together, with a radio and all, they would burst into various classrooms singing the theme, only to leave and move onto other classrooms.
One of the most short-lived traditions was called “Slave Day.” All the freshmen would line up in the commons where seniors shopped for a freshman to purchase. Once they found their selection, they could make their “slave” do anything from typing a paper for them to buying them lunch. However, it did not take long for the school to realize that this was merely a glorified form of hazing, as well as completely innapropriate, and thus “Slave Day” was a thing of the past.
“You guys are so much more aware [now],” said Ms. Gianakos.
But by being so aware, questions of whether the school regulating Spirit Week too much have been rising. There are claims that these regulations taking the life out of Spirit Week, a week meant for rivalry and competition among the entire school?
“It’s a time to be a little bit wild. It’s a time for the class to bond and make memories. Lighten up. There has to be some rules after all, but my 55th high school reunion is coming up, and what we talk about are the ‘Remember when you did…”’ said Ms. Hardy. “You have to ask yourselves what memories you want to create in the four years you are here.”

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