How Spirit Week has changed throughout the years, according to teachers and alumni.
For as long as anyone—student or staff—can remember, AHS has held Spirit Week. Over the period of five days every October, our school is transformed by themed displays in the rotunda, daily rallies, dress-up days, and a tangible feeling of school and class spirit. Even a global pandemic couldn’t stop us last year, and just a few weeks ago our student body leaders worked around this year’s restrictions to give us an in-person Spirit Week to remember. Spirit Week is one of if not the most important tradition we have as Eagles.
Despite its enduring legacy, Spirit Week has definitely gone through changes over time… more than most of us might expect.
One of the traditions that has seen a lot of adjustments is set-building, an undeniably important aspect of Spirit Week. Each class works hard for months building backdrops and other constructions that fit their chosen theme. Often, that means remodeling structures that don’t look up to standard and procuring furniture that can be repurposed.
But for Mr. Benn, who teaches Physics and graduated from American in 1982, set preparations looked a lot different. “We didn’t have months and months and months,” Mr. Benn said. “We couldn’t rebuild stuff… we basically had to cram it all in a relatively short amount of time. Three weeks, maybe.”
However, that didn’t stop sets from looking as magnificent as they do now. According to Mrs. Wheaton, who graduated just a few years after Mr. Benn and now teaches Engineering, sets were much more of an elaborate affair.
“Because we had less students, [each class got] an entire one quarter of the rotunda to decorate… we would have stuff hanging from the ceilings [and] more structures,” she said.
She recalls a year when one of the classes created a fabulous centerpiece for their Under the Sea themed set: “I think it was supposed to be a clamshell… it was [made of] metal and tulle fabric and [it had] lights. It was gorgeous. It was so impressive!”
How is it possible that sets managed to be so much more extravagant despite being built in so little time? It seems that back in the day, Spirit Week planners were focused on fewer activities. According to Mr. Benn, dance performances did not play as big of a role, which allowed more attention and resources to go toward sets.
“I’m so old that MTV was still new [in high school],” he said. “And so we had less emphasis on dance numbers than today.”
“I feel like [our dances were] more generic,” Mrs. Wheaton stated further. “We were in the age of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, where he revolutionized the group dance. So that was [still] getting started.”
Both teachers agree that skits were a larger factor of Spirit Week. “It was more skit-centered,” Mrs. Wheaton recalls. “They had a real plot, versus [now,] when students think, ‘how can we build a skit around dances?’ And I remember more teachers being in the skits… they would drag us [into] them back then.
“Parents came and watched [rallies] during the day,” Mrs. Wheaton added. “Our school got so big… we don’t have a venue big enough for everybody to come watch. So that’s how the nighttime performances got started.”
Rallies and sets have definitely seen a lot of changes, but Spirit Week has never been limited to these activities. Unsurprisingly, dress-up days have evolved as well.
“Instead of colors and different themes, you dressed [based on] what your [class’s] topic was,” Mrs. Wheaton said. “So if the freshmen were doing pirates, all the freshmen would dress up as pirates.”
“You only dressed for your day,” Mr. Benn added.
Mrs. Wheaton believes that this is a key difference in today’s Spirit Week in comparison to the one of her generation: “There was more competition [than] unity… we’ve lost that class competition. I liked that competition, it was fun. Especially the year we were juniors and we beat the seniors!”
However, Bella Jiang, a previous ASB President who graduated last year, said, “It can get really competitive at American. I think it’s important to remember to have fun… we want all four grades to feel like they’re part of the school community.”
Mr. Creger, who has been teaching at American longer than any other current staff member, concurs. “The guidelines [for Spirit Week] have been much improved. [They] reward classes for good sportsmanship, which is a big advance.” Despite admitting he can get a bit “partisan” for his sophomores, Mr. Creger says that Spirit Week “is more orderly [now]… the requirements are more cohesive and easier for students to thrive.”
While much of Spirit Week has changed greatly, what hasn’t is the level of hard work that students put into each of its aspects. From sets to dance performances to skits to dressing up, there has always been an underlying current of passion that is unique to AHS. Spirit Week is bound to evolve as time goes on, but as all Eagles will tell you, it isn’t going anywhere.