11th in a series.
Walking into Potomac Falls High School, signs welcome you to Panther Territory; stained glass murals above the front doors commemorate graduating classes. But it's the purple, black, gray and white banners that hang above students' heads in the main hallway that represent a new tradition starting to take hold at Potomac Falls.
The banners will be used to show the standings in the Class Cup competition, which pits each of the four grades against one another to determine which shows the most school spirit throughout the year. Each class, for instance, gets points for attending sporting events, demonstrating enthusiasm at sports pep rallies and posting good grades, but loses them for transgressions such as tardiness and suspensions.
The class with the most points at the end of the year wins the competition, receives a day off from classes for a field day, and is awarded a silver cup engraved with its graduation year.
Adrian Tracy, a Potomac Falls graduate and former starter on the football and basketball teams, said he thinks the Class Cup competition, which started last year, will expand beyond the sports teams to the entire student body.
"It included people who didn't play sports and gave a reason for them to engage in school spirit," Tracy said of the competition, which his class won last year. "Other schools have a strong sense of school spirit already. . . . They've been in the county for a number of years. The Class Cup added to our tradition."
Athletic Director Mike Sipe and Student Council Association President Michaela Ottenberg, a senior, are both enthusiastic about programs like the Class Cup because of their importance to the growth of tradition at the school.
"We're in our ninth year here at the school," Sipe said. "It's gone by quickly, but it's just been a short period of time to build traditions. When you think traditions, you think schools that go back 20, 25 years."
Potomac Falls may lack the lengthy history -- it opened in 1997 -- but the school has not needed much time to field quality athletic teams.
Take the soccer program. The girls' team has won two state titles in the school's brief history and has made two other state finals appearances. The boys' team has won three of the last four district championships and last season won the Region II title. The soccer program has been so successful at Potomac Falls that some students and coaches think the school is known more for soccer than any other sport.
"I think definitely it set a tradition down there," said former Potomac Falls girls' soccer and wrestling coach Kris Kelican, who left to become the assistant athletic director at Loudoun Valley High School. "It definitely is a great program down there, and it has been since the school opened."
The Potomac Falls boys' basketball team is beginning a tradition of its own, winning the last two district titles. Coach Jeff Hawes led the team to the region semifinals last year, and though it came up short of the state title, he thinks the Panthers left a positive impression on their opponents.
Sipe hopes to popularize the ringing of the victory bell, which rests behind the benches inside the Potomac Falls football stadium. The idea is that after each home win, someone from Potomac Falls rings the bell, a celebration the football team would like to see happen more often after a 4-6 season.
Starting linebacker and fullback Jay Branom doesn't appreciate the fact that Potomac Falls is thought of as a soccer school and wants to make sure the football team puts itself on the map this season. "I want to make [Potomac Falls] a football school," Branom said. "Other teams probably think it's an easy game [when they play Potomac Falls]. It's going to be different this year."