For those who have never attended a Valparaiso football or basketball game, “Viking Nation” means nothing more than a group of Scandinavian pirates and traders. For students of Valparaiso High School, Viking Nation has become a Friday night tradition that brings the student body together as one.
To clarify, Viking Nation a the rather appropriate name of the student section for VHS athletics, attracting hundreds of students to dress according to specific themes each game. Each year, the group is led by two seniors who prepare themes for each game and inform the student body of upcoming events. This year, the task was handed off to Jeremy Wardell and Michael Lichtenberger. The pair created a list of themes ranging from neon night to toga night, sharing all their plans on an official twitter page.
“Michael and I got together and tried to factor in what the temperature would be,” said Wardell. “We also would tweet out asking for theme suggestions so we can get a feel for what everyone wants. We want to make sure that everybody has fun.”
Both Wardell and Lichtenberger have been part of Viking Nation throughout their high school years, exuding the school spirit that ultimately landed them the job of leading the students this year.
Lichtenberger said, “I think our student section stands out because we always have a ton of support from all of the grade levels at the high school and I think when all of us were kids we remember walking past the student sections and seeing how awesome they were. Now it’s our turn to keep the tradition alive. Everyone dresses up for the theme and it’s a great opportunity to meet new people and hangout. We always strive to be better than the year before.”
Though all the schools in the Duneland Athletic Conference have some sort of student section, Viking Nation sets itself apart by gaining respect from the faculty and community.
“It’s nice to be someplace where kids are organized enough to be able to do some meaningful, school spirit things that are good natured,” said Principal Dr. Reid Amones. “It really unifies classes- ninth grade, tenth grade, eleventh grade, twelfth grade. The seniors get to take on some leadership roles which is nice. It also teaches them responsibility. The students will check in with me from time to time about themes or ideas. It’s really nice for the players that are out on the field, court, whatever it may be, to see their peers there supporting them. I think that means a lot to them as well.”
Amones, who has been principal at VHS for five years now, said that last year’s student section was larger than ever before.
“It’s not really a club, but it gives kids an involvement with the school,” said Amones.
Offensive Coach Chance Garbison was exposed to Viking Nation long before his time as a coach on the football team.
Garbison graduated from VHS in 2003, playing football throughout his years at the school.
“The student section was always packed to the max for both home and away games,” said Garbison. “It was incredible to feel like we were at home even on the road.”
“I really like seeing all the themes that are planned throughout the season now. We had some of that, usually against Chesterton or Portage.The creativity of the student section is most definitely better today than it was 14 years ago, but the numbers were higher back in the day. I would really like to see our stands and student section filled to the max for both home and away games.”
Team Captain and Defensive Right Tackle Joseph Rios feels the same support Garbison did as a player.
“Viking Nation plays a big part in our games,” said Rios. “It’s motivational to see that much of the student body at our games. It’s like having an extra man on the field. It means a lot to the players when that many students show up, especially to away games. We couldn’t ask for a better student section.”
At the end of the day, Viking Nation gives students a break from the stress of school, while still creating a sense of school pride.
Senior Kayla Ferrari said, “I love dressing up for the themes with my friends. Viking Nation is one of the only places yelling and cheering very loud are acceptable. It’s a place where the student body comes together and rises up for one cause: to cheer on their team.”