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Baldwin students help drive fan base

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 9:31 p.m.

A single hashtag makes it easier each week for Baldwin High School students to organize the cheering section at varsity football games.

#PurpOut #CamoOut #USA #LetsGo

This year, more Baldwin students than ever are cheering on the Highlanders at away games because of fan buses provided by the district. Baldwin-Whitehall School District provides student fans transportation to away games for several varsity sports and has for more than 25 years, said Vince Sortino, athletic director for the district.

But students are taking the lead as organizers each week, using Twitter and Facebook to spread the word, come up with creative costume themes and enhance school spirit at football, basketball and volleyball games.

“It's definitely up this year than in previous years,” Sortino said. “The kids, they really seem to enjoy it.”

Students usually approach Sortino on the Monday before a Friday night game to request a fan bus, Sortino said. From there, a certain number of students must sign up for the fan bus, as well as enough chaperones.

The number of students varies from game to game, he said.

About 40 students signed up for the fan bus for the Sept. 28 football game at Upper St. Clair High School, and more than 150 attended the Sept. 13 game at Penn Hills High School, Sortino said. In between, the Sept. 21 game included a “Purple Out” of the student section — wearing all purple — for Baldwin's home game against Mt. Lebanon.

“They really support each other tremendously here,” Sortino said. “It's pretty student-driven.”

Anthony Barbano, a senior and one of the organizers of the cheering section/fan bus, started attending away sports events as a freshman, he said. He said the goal is for all Baldwin students to feel comfortable attending the sporting events and participating.

“We want everyone to feel welcome,” Barbano said. “I promote it as much as a I can.”

Barbano said it's about promoting Highlander pride. Barbano will tweet each week the theme, whether it's a Purple Out; wearing red, white and blue; camouflage; or, around Halloween, super-hero costumes.

Sortino said the fan bus is a great way to promote school spirit in a safe way at other schools. Likewise, the students' behavior is rarely a problem.

“We've got great kids here,” said Sortino, adding that the students' good behavior earns them continued freedom to enhance fan activities. “They really never, ever disappoint.”

For the players on the field or court, having classmates travel to other schools to cheer them on raises the teams' spirits.

“They love it. They absolutely love it,” Sortino said. “It's just kids having fun in high school.”

When Stefan Ayers, a senior Baldwin football player, suffered an injury this year, he knew his new place on a Friday night was on the fan bus and in the bleachers.

“Friday night, in general, is one of a kind. There's nothing better,” Ayers said. “It makes it seem like a home game.”

Ayers promotes the fan bus throughout the school day.

“I yell in the hall, ‘Sign up for the fan bus,'” he said. “It's just a vibe that everyone's going to the football game.”

To promote the Sept. 28 game, Ayers summed it up on Twitter nicely: #CamoOut bring your hunters gear, army fatigues and anything else that has camo #letsgetit.

Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at lvanwert@tribweb.com.

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