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Building pride in Lions at West Linn High School


State championship brought school together in a way it looks to duplicate in the future

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE -  Mitch Mondor leads a cheer at the assembly to honor West Linn High School's state championship competitors. When the clock struck zero and the West Linn High School boys basketball team had officially won the 6A state championship, Principal Lou Bailey focused his attention not on the players in front of him, but instead made a 180-degree turn to look at the stands behind him.

From his courtside seat, the school’s principal of five years beamed at what he saw: students, parents and faculty alike, all standing and cheering as one — a dream come true for someone like Bailey.

The championship hardware was special, but in the midst of a school year hit by tragedy, the greatest victory was seeing the community rally together.

“The joy of just watching our community — that was just awesome,” Bailey said. “It was just cool to see how our community rallied, how our students rallied, our parents. How that just brings people together. That’s what you want as a high school principal, or any principal at any level. You want the school to be this place that people can grab on to, and connect with, and rally behind and support.”

The moment didn’t heal the emotional wounds from the deaths of two freshmen students in 2012 along with last fall’s fire, but it was certainly meaningful. The moment reflected a significant step forward in the school’s effort to foster a more connected community.

“We have a great culture here; kids are very respectful,” Bailey said. “But they move around their business and sometimes forget they’re in a place with people. ... How many times do you walk down a hallway and you just pass somebody and you don’t even look them in the eye, say, ‘Hey, good morning?’ ”

It’s something students like Tabitha Davis have been working hard to change, with progress coming slowly but steadily. On March 12, Davis and the school’s Associate Student Body leadership group helped bring in speaker Ed Gerety, who worked to hammer home that concept of unity and outreach.

The buzz within the student body was palpable immediately following the speech, according to Davis, but since then the junior has been working to make sure the message sticks.”Our goal is to get Ed not to be a ‘one-day wonder,’ as we called it,” Davis said. “Everybody afterward was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to change. I’m going to change. This is going to be great.’ Next day: ‘What speaker?’”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - WLHS boy's basketball coach Eric Viuhkola talks about how the team came together.

Davis is particularly focused on freshmen outreach and making sure no one is on an island when they arrive at the high school.

“It’s a big change and some freshmen don’t know how to handle that,” Davis said. “And so what I’m working on mainly is getting them to kind of skip over that, to where they feel completely accepted, to where that first day of school, they look around and they see their friends, they see people they already know.”

ASB adviser Butch Self has done his best to take a hands-off approach to the movement, allowing changes to be organic and student driven. And recently, he’s seen an increased sense of urgency flowing through multiple realms of the student body.

“It’s become kind of a focus now, more so maybe than it was in the past,” Self said. “Trying to focus on what it is that makes this a special community, and how do we get others who come into it to understand that community and how important it is?”

Beyond freshmen outreach, Davis echoed Bailey’s thoughts about saying hello to people in the hallways, or doling out at least three compliments to strangers each day. Though relatively simple for Davis, who is outgoing by nature, it’s a change in behavior that does not come easily for many others.

“I don’t have as much of a problem going up to somebody I don’t know and going, ‘Hey, how are you?’ but for some people that’s really out of their personal bubble,” Davis said. “So I think right now we’re kind of in the bursting bubbles phase.”

In that sense, the state championship game was highly beneficial.

“It’s a huge unity builder, because especially at the Rose Garden, you stood by everybody,” Davis said. “When you’re in somewhere like that, there’s not cliques. It’s like everybody is one school and I think that’s what our main goal is. We want it to be one school; we don’t want it to be just the jocks, just the thespians. We want it to be ‘We are West Linn.’ ”

Bailey looked to rekindle some of that fire with an assembly last week to honor a number of teams that competed for state championships. Music blared as a large number of students and faculty filed into the school’s gymnasium, and one by one the teams were honored — the basketball team predictably coming last. Head coach Eric Viuhkola took a few minutes to speak to the crowd, and ended with a callback to Gerety’s speech.

“In honor of Ed,” he said, “we’re going to give the staff one clap, then two claps, then three!”

The assembly ended and clouds of students swarmed back out into the school hallway. Some filtered out to lunch, others to their next classes. Whether the message of the assembly and others before it had stuck remained to be seen.

“We’re a family here. Kids feel connected here,” Bailey said. “But I know that’s not the case for every kid; there’s kids we’re not reaching. And those are the kids I want to go after.”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Angie Hammond introduces the WLHS champions in various sports.