Students clash with administration over T-shirt display at basketball game

More shirts on order as ‘Warm the Bus Up’ chant draws fire from principal, UHSAA

Dr. Stephen Hren, principal of Grand County High, tries to get fans at a recent basketball game to not demean the opponent as students cheered “warm the bus up.” Students cite school spirit, but Hren says it’s not good sportsmanship. Photo courtesy of Kawika Ho

Grand County High students and residents are locked in a fierce battle for their rights. School spirit has been low for the high school over the years, but efforts to change that may have caused more conflict than celebration.

A boys basketball game played Jan. 8 included students that came wearing “warm the bus up” T-shirts under their jackets, and revealed them towards the end of the game. At previous basketball games “warm the bus up” cheers from students were stopped. The cheer seemed harmless enough, but when it was used to put the other team down, advisors became concerned that it represented unsportsmanlike conduct and was considered to be taunting.

“I would be willing to talk to the people so we could have a positive resolution, but the bottom line is we can’t have cheers that are going to be that way,” said Dr. Stephen Hren, the school’s principal.

However, students feel that they are being unfairly censored. Many students were removed from the game and were issued punishment per the school’s guidelines: if ejected from a game the student would have a three-game suspension and mandatory participation in an online sportsmanship clinic. In addition, the individual would need to talk to Hren before they would be allowed to play again.

The Utah School Activities Association issued a letter to Hren stating that: “taunting includes any actions or comments by coaches, players or spectators which tend to bait, anger and ridicule or demean others.”

Hren was following protocol when he issued the punishments and stopped the cheers.

“‘Warm the bus up’ is a classic thing that my parents used to yell back in their day, too,” said Kawika Ho, a student and coordinator of the chant. Parents and community members have started to get involved.

Ho said: “It’s not just the students, it’s parents and alumni.” Ho, along with many other students, were asked to leave after they used the “warm the bus up” cheer at a basketball game a few weeks ago. Hren said, “I talked to them and explained that we really shouldn’t be doing this. It’s rude, and we won. It’s not appropriate … it ended there.”

Or so they thought. Rumors were heard that shirts were to be made over Christmas break. Ho and other students organized a “Go Fund Me” page to collect money and support. Ho said they hoped to “really show team spirit in another way by giving the money to the basketball team.” About 40 shirts were purchased by fans the first time around.

But in Hren’s perception, “‘Warm the Bus Up’ might not necessarily be a negative thing, but that’s not the point. The point is that when it’s used and how it’s used, it does become embarrassing and demeaning to the other team, and so we really shouldn’t be doing that.”

Videos of the events that took place at the game have been seen by hundreds. “It’s contained to our region but spread throughout,’’ explained Ho. From the support of a variety of groups in the community, students have decided to continue their movement and have ordered another round of shirts.

Soon, 80 regular and 50 alumni shirts will arrive to help support students who favor the action. Ho said $1,836 has been raised from the latest order and will also be donated to the school’s basketball teams. “I kind of feel like Gandhi, trying to keep it all civil and peaceful,” said Ho. Students agree that they don’t want this to go too far, but they do want to make a statement.

Students have been saying that it’s more than just cheering now; it’s a movement. Dylan Shockenmeyer, a senior, said, “This is a movement for the school, not against it. We are promoting our freedom of will and our First Amendment right…we are going to stand up for our rights and do the right thing in pushing out the power trip of taking our fun and spirit that Grand County had achieved. We want to have fun and have spirit for our school and sports team, and that’s what he’s trying to stop by making us conform to what he thinks is right, and we will not stand down to this censorship of us.”

Shockenmeyer has been a leader of the movement. His fellow supporter and senior, Wilson Schmidt, said, “It’s not just about the cheer now.” Students and community members wish to be heard, although administrators have to follow protocol and try to keep a positive atmosphere for the games.

“Let them support their school and their team!” said Tricia Grawet on Facebook.

Editor’s note: Crane is a student intern at The Times-Independent.