The Genoa-Kingston volleyball team was a little taken aback during their home match against North Boone on Sept. 12.
There was noise coming out of the corner of the gym, where dozens of students, clad in matching blue shirts, were chanting and making noise throughout the match. After prodding from senior Connor Bankson, several members of the football team had shown up for the home opener after their team dinner, and plenty of fellow students joined them, creating an atmosphere that pleasantly surprised the Cogs.
“We had a great fan section,” coach Keith Foster said after the match. “It’s great. We love what (athletic director) Phil Jerbi is doing.”
Volleyball is far from the only sport receiving an influx of student support at G-K. Students show up to soccer matches, golf meets, cross country meets, and hundreds show up to cheer on the football team week after week.
The support is all part of what Jerbi, who has been a teacher and coach at G-K for 20 years, coined the “GK Pride Club.” This year, the club’s catch phrase is, “We Are One,” which is meant to show unity and to illustrate that no one sport is more important than another.
Students pay $50 at the beginning of the year, and in return, they receive three shirts, one white, one blue and one orange, and the athletic department will label different games a blue-out, orange-out or white out. Members also enter sporting events for free, where they take part in raffles at designated games.
“The idea behind ‘We Are One’ was to promote kind of a unity,” Jerbi said. “We wanted the football players to come to the volleyball games, we wanted the volleyball players to come to the soccer games, and the soccer guys to come out to the cross country meets. The other thing that ‘We Are One’ does is it gives the kids who are not necessarily athletes, maybe they don’t go out for other extra-curricular activities at all, to give them the opportunity to be a part of what’s going on.”
Jerbi expected success. But he didn’t expect the amount of numbers that ended up signing on, with about 200 kids taking part from a school of just more than 600.
“It’s just really been neat to see,” Jerbi said. “We’ve seen a major improvement in our school culture, in our climate, in our school spirit since we’ve started this. So far, so good.”
At the first few football games, the amount of support became abundantly clear when hundreds of orange- and white-clad fans spilled out of the student section and over to the neighboring seats.
Athletes like volleyball libero Olivia Cotton, basketball point guard Tommy Lucca and football running back Sal Lopez have become leaders in the club, along with several other student-athletes, including Bankson. And as the Cogs’ fall sports season has gained momentum, with volleyball, soccer and football all above .500, GK Pride has picked up steam.
“We just wanted to bring back a lot of pride in G-K,” Bankson said. “Last year, not a lot of people came to our football games, or any sporting event for that matter, and it’s no fun when nobody’s there.
Walking through the halls on the day of a designated game, Bankson said it’s easy to tell the stark difference the program has made in breeding school spirit.
“To me it is (surprising). I figured it would be a gradual thing, more and more people, but it all just happened all at once,” Bankson said. “There’s a ton of people on it. Everywhere you look, there’s a ‘We Are One,’ shirt. Everywhere.”