Initiative attracts more students to sporting events

Indian River High School student Olivia Sananikone remembers the encompassing sensation she felt wafting through the crowded student section while cheering as the football team scored a touchdown on a recent Friday night.

“Honestly, it was a very warm feeling because you’re screaming for students who you go to school with,” said Sananikone, a senior. “These are your friends, and when they’re in their element of playing sports ... we’re (student spectators) all brought together as one. Everyone has their different cliques in school, but that doesn’t show here because everyone is cheering together for one specific thing (student peers’ success) that they love.”

Sananikone’s emotive experience is, to some extent, the result of a new initiative — Stand Up and Cheer — that IR Athletic Director Todd Fuhrmann has created to embrace more members of the student body and attract them to the school’s athletic events.

“The Stand Up and Cheer initiative has been started to increase student participation and attendance at home events,” said Fuhrmann. “Seeing how everything has been handled with Covid 19, from no attendance to limited attendance at events and school, we felt we needed to give the students a way to embrace friends, classmates and teammates throughout the year. Not only does the ‘student section’ provide a place for our students to cheer and support our teams, it also helps them show school pride and togetherness.

“Moving forward, we hope to build on what we have started in the fall moving into the winter and spring (sports season),” added Fuhrmann. “The entire movement is meant to support everyone that attends Indian River and to show the pride each and every one of our students have for their school.”

Fuhrmann also said that Indian River’s “general fan base (including parents, siblings and community members)” would also be impacted by Stand Up and Cheer. “We will invite (everyone) to join in on the ‘theme nights (like the recent Oct. 1 Mental Health Awareness Night)’ that we will be (promoting),” he noted. “The community is just as important to our school culture as the students. Without our community, we would not be able to provide and offer these opportunities to our students.”

A recently-created Stand Up and Cheer Indian River High student Instagram account provides information about upcoming athletic events for fall sports football, boys soccer, and girls volleyball and field hockey. Information about themes, such as Hawaiian Shirt Night and Mental Health Awareness Night are also provided via Instagram.

The students at Indian River High have responded to the messages with a sizeable increase in student attendance at football and girls volleyball matches. “During the last year and a half, a lot of students were isolated (due to the Covid-19 pandemic),” said purple-clad senior Jennifer Nance in observance of the Mental Health Awareness Night prior to the Oct. 1 football game against Seaford. “(This initiative) is a good thing (because) it gets everyone involved. Our sports teams can always use more support from students. It’s amazing how all the positive energy from student spectators is focused into the game. It’s just awesome because it brings so much more to football. We’ve had an entire section, the aisle, and the next section over filled because of our students’ response to this program.”

Under Fuhrmann’s supervision, Stand Up and Cheer is being managed by junior Jamie Bender. “I think a lot of students enjoy coming to the sporting events,” said Bender, who writes and edits all of the Instagram content. “I’m always trying to create as many themes for games to attrace as many students as possible to attend sporting events,” said Bender, an Indians baseball player during the spring sports season. “There are games where we can wear specific shirts or colors, like red, white and blue for (a soccer game this past Sept. 11). We’ll probably have White Out Night, and maybe green and gold themed games in the future.

“Attending our school’s sporting events is something we can do together as a student body to have an enjoyable experience,” added Bender. “So far, the (three home) football games have been well-attended by our students. And we have students from other sports who have taken leadership roles at those events to rally the students.”

That includes Indian River High School soccer players like senior goalkeeper Reece Stone and sophomore midfielder Shane Carroll, who have taken the initiative of managing the student section at football games. They do so by leading cheers, ensuring that behavioral standards are being met, and keeping the emotional level at a fever pitch.

“It’s IR, baby ... we have school pride and we love the school,” said Carroll. “Playing is more exciting, because when you’re on the field you are in the zone and you don’t hear anyone. But it’s wonderful to cheer on your classmates on the football field.”

The Indian River High athletic teams are more than deserving of an enthusiastic following from their peers, said Sananikone. “The student-athletes we cheer for put in so much work, and their talent needs to be showcased to an audience,” she noted. “The school spirit in general is what keeps the experience of being a student alive by bringing everybody together as one. I’ve played field hockey and lacrosse, and I like it when someone watches me perform.”

Stand Up and Cheer continues to attract more students to Indian River sporting events. These students agree that attending these types of attractions provides a healthy, helpful release from the daily routine of studying and learning. Merely listening to a cheering crowd populated by classmates — not to mention cheering yourself — provides gratification and fulfillment.

“High school has a new meaning because of everything that’s gone on lately, said Nance. “With activities (such as Stand Up and Cheer) that enable students to be a part of sporting events, being part of this school is that much more special.

Staff Reporter

Mike is a veteran sports journalist, covering generations of student-athletes in Pennsylvania, Texas and Delaware. He moved to the area in 2018 with his wife, Colleen. His passion for people and sports enables him to honor young athletes’ achievements.