Revival of the popular flag bearers brings excitement to games, unites the Horde
It’s Friday night, the first football game of the season. Senior Jack Massey waits just outside the football stadium. He straightens his signature white button down and fixes the brim of his tawny cowboy hat. He then picks up his flag and walks across the football field, eyes set on a large banner portraying an angry eagle. Hands shaking from nerves (and caffeine), Massey prepares himself for the biggest moment of his life: his debut as an ESD Wingman.
The Wingmen emerged as the face of the ESD student section, the Horde, in 2017, when Braden Allen ‘18 approached varsity cheer coach Megan Schroeder ‘09 with the idea of creating a new way for seniors, as well as students, to get more involved in the spirit side of ESD sports.
“Braden approached me at the end of his junior year with the idea modeled after the Scotsmen at [Highland Park High School],” Schroeder said. “We took the steps to make sure everyone on campus including leadership and athletics were on board, [established] guidelines and recruited the first group of Wingmen from the class of 2018. We had a strong group [of Wingmen] the following years until COVID hit.”
Schroder said that she is thrilled that the Wingmen are back and in full force this year.
“I am a big fan of giving any and all students an opportunity to shine, and this was a great way to include more students in a different way,” she said.
Seniors Jack Massey, Briggs Briner, Henry Hamlin, Dagen Geier and John Cahoon will lead the Horde as the 2022-2023 Wingmen.
“We were bored at games last year,” Massey said. “And we wanted to make them fun [this year]. As Wingmen, we lead the student section and basically we just yell at people to get hype.”
The Wingmen are walking into this year with loads of enthusiasm, eager to replicate the former glory of the ESD Horde before the chaos of Covid-19 slowed the zeal of the student section.
“I like to run with the flags,” Hamlin said. “I’m most excited for Mr. Laba to do push-ups after the football team scores.”
Although the Wingmen work closely with coach Schroeder, as well as the football team and the cheerleading team, their job allows for some flexibility.
“There are no rules to being a Wingman,” Geier said. “Show up, show out. As long as we’re there when the game starts and able to run out before the football team, there’s nothing left to do except hype up the crowd.”
With help from the cheerleaders and word of mouth, Schroeder hand-selected this year’s Wingmen, deeming them enthusiastic and charismatic — characteristics vital to the success of the Wingmen.
“It’s important to me that whoever wants to participate is going to give it their all,” Schroeder said. “The Wingmen have the unique opportunity to help hype up the student sections at games, participate in pep rallies and elevate school spirit with the Cheerleaders and the Horde. Having big school spirit is important!”
And Schroeder’s enthusiasm for elevating school spirit is shared by the Wingmen. They affectionately refer to their sponsor as “The Winglady.”
“I’ve been in the Winglady’s office every day since I decided to do this thing,” Massey said. “I think she likes how excited we are about it, but she’s a little scared of how excited we are about it.”
The fervor of the Wingmen is only amplified by their elaborate, if slightly worry-inducing, Friday gameday and pregame rituals.
“On a typical Friday, we go to Wingmen breakfast at the Original Pancake House,” Hamlin said. “What do we do there? We eat pancakes. We actually don’t speak to each other. It’s a silent morning to show respect for all those teams we’ve murdered on the field.”
Once they’ve celebrated their wins in reverent silence, the Wingmen head to school, eager to get through the day.
“As we head to school, we sync up our Spotify’s to do a group listen, so we’re all listening to the same thing at the same time, to get in the zone,” Massey said. “We have our first dose of caffeine at around 9 a.m. — three-quarters of a scoop of preworkout. And then we go through morning classes, acting normal.”
Usually, when the Wingmen finish their morning of classes and pray for the success of the football team in Chapel, they head to lunch.
“Lunchtime means a second dose of caffeine,” Cahoon said. “As seniors, we have off-campus lunch; the Wingmen head to GNC. We get a new protein powder every Friday. We’re still silent at GNC, we haven’t said anything to one another.”
And when the afternoon hits, the Wingmen are more amped than ever — it’s almost game time.
“When that 4 p.m. bell rings, it’s time to get jittery,” Geier said. “Third dose of caffeine. We start itching.”
After school ends, the Wingmen split up to perform their separate pregame rituals. They typically reconvene at Briner’s house before the game to get in the zone.
“After school, Jack and I go get a quick workout in,” Briner said. “Dagen goes to cross country practice, while Henry and John typically use their free time to refuel on smelling salts.”
During the games, the Wingmen have a variety of jobs. They run the Wingmen flags through the end zone after every point scored, on both field goals and touchdowns. Their main job is to keep the crowd on their feet and loud through every quarter. A special ritual of the Wingmen involves their shirt buttons: as each quarter of the game passes, the Wingmen unbutton one button of their shirt. By the end of the fourth quarter, they’re all unbuttoned. The Wingmen also have the task of keeping the crowd entertained — which often involves some crowd interaction.
“We make the freshmen do push-ups every time we score,” Cahoon said. “People really want to do them this year, we haven’t had a lot of trouble finding freshmen to do push-ups.”
Although the Wingmen take their job very seriously, they can agree on one thing: running in cowboy boots is a lot harder than it seems.
“Running is a lot harder than I thought it would be,” Massey said. “Especially when you have to carry a massive flag with you.”
When the going gets tough, caffeine is what keeps the Wingmen performing at the top of their game.
“We have so much caffeine before the games,” Cahoon said. “We have 500 mg a piece. It takes 1000 milligrams to kill you.”
But the Wingmen’s job is not only confined to Friday nights. They also participate in pep rallies with the cheerleading team.
“In the pep rallies, we do funny skits,” Hamlin said. “I get thrown around a bit when we stunt as a group. I may have to pull out the old Macarena at the pep rallies.”
Even though the football season has just started, the Wingmen are already making plans for the future.
“We’re trying to get a gong,” Geier said. “Our goal for the homecoming game is to ride in on mustangs, but we’ll see if that gets approved.”
The Wingmen share a collective dream about new props and gadgets that will help elevate the student body’s experience in the Horde.
“In the future we’re hoping to have cap guns, so we can shoot them in the air when good things happen,” Hamlin said. “I want to get a portable fog machine in my pants. And we really want microphones with portable amps that attach to your belt so we can really hype up the crowd.”
However, the Wingmen’s dreams extend even further beyond cap guns and gongs — all the way into the reaches of the subconscious.
“Last Friday night, after the game, I had a dream about the Wingmen running the flags through the end zone and down the sidelines,” Massey said. “I woke up the next morning and could still hear the crowd cheering.”
The Wingmen’s energy and vigor — whether it be caffeine induced or naturally occurring — is one of their qualities that make them extremely qualified for the job.
“I have never worked with a crew that is more excited or fired up,” Schroeder said. “I am thrilled that they wanted to do it, and they have already shown incredible school spirit. They are high energy, have a strong love for ESD and our sports teams and are committed. It’s going to be a really fun year!”
Representing the face of the Horde, the job of a Wingmen can seem daunting. But the gravity is not lost on this years’ Wingmen.
“We feel a heavy responsibility to make the games fun,” Massey said. “Without the Wingmen, who’s gonna do it?”
The Wingmen acknowledge that their job is incomplete without the support of the student body, a true representation of the ESD community that we so cherish.
“We can’t create an entire student section by ourselves,” Hamlin said. “If there’s no student section, there’s no Wingmen, and vice versa.”