Following in Their Footsteps: Sports Rituals in Goodland

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, currently touring Kansas.

The Goodland High School pep club's uniforms have changed since this photo was taken, but their traditions live on in the GHS Bleacher Creatures.  Photo Courtesy High Plains Museum.

The Goodland High School pep club’s uniforms have changed since this photo was taken, but their traditions live on in the GHS Bleacher Creatures. Photo Courtesy High Plains Museum.

The rituals that surround athletics are almost as much a part of sports as the games themselves.

It’s not just the athletes who take part in these rituals, either. For many fans, it’s the rituals that go along with sports that really define the experience of loving a team.

Goodland, Kansas, a town of about 4500 people in the northwest corner of the state, is no different.

Goodland loves its sports: the high school Cowboys and Cowgirls compete in football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, wrestling, golf, cross country, track and cheerleading. And the school and town are invested in supporting their student athletes, creating and taking part in rituals old and new.

“Ritual” can seem like a heavy word, but really, it’s just a way of talking about actions that help create a sense of identity.

“Sports are a vital part of our community that bind people together,” said Sami Philbrick, Goodland’s High Plains Museum Hometown Teams Project Director. “Rituals are such a part of our sports lives in Goodland that, when [you] think of sports…you cannot not think about our rituals.”

Goodland’s sports rituals run the gamut from light-hearted to serious, commonplace to unique. Some, like singing the school song at games and burning the rival school’s mascot before Homecoming, take place at schools across the country. Others are more Goodland-specific.

The “Jumping Juniors” are just one example of a fun Goodland ritual that helps create bonds among classmates. Every year, girls in the junior class perform a choreographed dance at Homecoming while wearing decorated pillowcases, knee socks, sneakers and a borrowed letterman’s jacket tied around their waists.

And while rituals are, by nature, repeated, that doesn’t mean they never change with the times. The Goodland pep club was originally girls-only, but as more girls began to participate in organized sports at the school, the pep club opened membership up to boys, too. Instead of the original pep club’s “uniform” (a skirt, turtleneck and gold vest with badges), the new Bleacher Creatures sported matching t-shirts while they sat in the student section to cheer on the Cowboys and Cowgirls.

Goodland High School’s sports rituals often involve reaching out to former GHS students. Each year’s Homecoming parade ends at the high school, where former a class of Cowboys and Cowgirls is honored, and former Homecoming and Snoball Winter Formal Kings and Queens return each year to crown the new court.

Some Goodland rituals affect the community in particular meaningful ways. For several years, the Homecoming Queen received a scholarship in memory of a former GHS Homecoming Queen, Tanya Armstrong, who died of breast cancer.  These kinds of rituals are a way of showing community values, Philbrick said, like supporting one another in good times and bad.

Maintaining an emphasis on reaching out to former Goodland students also helps keep the community involved in its local teams.

Sports rituals are “a way of tying the past to the present and show[ing] the aspects Goodland people think of as ‘ours’ will remain,” Philbrick added.

“We may have different backgrounds and live in different places, but our common history is something that will bind us.”

Both the Hometown Teams traveling Smithsonian exhibition and Goodland’s exhibition about local sports will be on display at the High Plains Museum from March 21 to May 3. For more information, contact (785) 890-4595.