At Eric Hamber secondary, a pep rally is a virtual experience.
Game results are broadcast in 140 characters or less and stands surge with fans because #GriffinsNation is a rallying cry. A teacher is reaching hundreds of students, who pass along the message to hundreds more.
At Eric Hamber secondary, athletic director Indy Sehmbi has seen school pride soar ever since he created a Twitter account for the athletic department, @HamberAthletics, in 2011.
At first, he said he wasn’t drawn to micro-blogging. Now he tweets several times a day and into the night, starts conversations, holds trivia contests, answers questions and drops inspirational quotes drawn from his own values. Students love it.
“First of all, he’s really funny and his hashtags, like #YOLO, it’s really funny,” Said Simon Zhao, who Sehmbi said will retweet almost everything he posts.
“YOLO,” stands for “you only live once.”
Other tweets and hashtags, which link to an online archive that serves as a conversation in which Twitter users can take part and read, are inspirational, informative and entertaining.
Last March Sehmbi asked students. “What has been your favourite athletics moment this year,” and added #reflect and #BackInTheDay.
One student questioned him on #YOLO. He replied, “You are right. It should be #YLOO, you live only once,” and he added #GrammarPolice, #FutureEnglishTeacher and #Shakespeare.
Students like Zhao who are attached to their phones can reach the athletic director for the information that matters most to them.
“If I can’t catch a game and if I need to get the score on the juvenile girls basketball game,” said Zhao, 14, “it’s like: Look! Mr. Sehmbi tweeted it already. After a game whenever we win, we almost have a competition to see who can tweet him the results fastest. I have to say, we have a really good togetherness at the school.”
Sehmbi has Tweeted nearly 1,000 times since his start and has 279 followers, not a large number by Twitter standards, but his loyal following reaches to a well-networked web of plugged-in teenagers. News spreads fast in this crowd.
After Churchill secondary broadcast their version of the suddenly popular Harlem Shake, Hamber planned one of their own. Sehmbi put out the call on Twitter.
“I tweeted on a Friday, the next Friday we had 300 kids in the gym and it was all done via twitter,” said Sehmbi last week at a busy Hamber gymnasium where 80 boys played a three-on-three basketball tournament during the lunch break.
“It took off. It was huge. That happened just because they were tuned in. That’s the cool thing, too. I can reach 400 kids or 500 kids ASAP,” he said, holding an iPhone with a cover designed to look like a cassette tape.
“If we can’t reach them now in person, maybe I can connect to them this way. I stated to think about how kids see themselves beyond just themselves now. They connect to who they are online.”
When he clarified that a meeting was not the actual event, he Tweeted, “Folks, do not bring your chicken costumes or subway mascot costumes to today’s meeting. Save it for Friday. #HamberShakes”
Teenagers, already on their phones almost every hour of the day, can connect with their school in ways past generations couldn’t.
“It may be a distraction, but they’re engaged,” said Sehmbi. “But I get a captive audience when they’re sitting there on the bus and they’re flipping through their tweets. Whatever is going on, I get them one on one. I can’t get that over the [public address] announcements.”
It’s not just the medium, the strength is also in the message. Sehmbi peppers practice times, game schedules, nightly results and individual contributions from students with amateur historical quizzes (with prizes for correct answers) and he’s introduced a new adage now known as a #Sehmbism.
For example, in September at the start of the school year, he tweeted, “Don't practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong. #Sehmbism.”
Sehmbi, 33, who co-coached the national men’s field hockey team until recently and keeps close tabs with amateur sports in the Lower Mainland, was watching college basketball in the U.S. when he was inspired to create a similar sense of school pride at Hamber. He introduced #GriffinsNation, a hashtag-turned-motto that extends well beyond the basketball court and football field.
“What does it mean to be part of the Griffins nation? Kids are proud of their school. If you’re part of the Griffins nation, you’re the kind of person who is hard working, you’re proud of what you do and you strive for excellence.”
School pride isn’t limited to a single sports team or even to athletics, and so he also tweeted the notion that all students and staff are all equal and important parts of school life and spirit. Hence: #OneTeam.
It’s since extended beyond athletics, said Sehmbi. “We are one team. In the classroom we are one team, if you are drama you are one team, if you are staff, if you go to this school you, are part of one team.”
HIGHLIGHTS from @HamberAthletics
March 9: Some advice for fans: Support your school teams with all your heart. Cheer loud and be proud. But never disrespect your opposition. #respect
March 7: Congrats to Rick Lopez (former Griffin staff) on qualifying for the AAA provincials with Churchill senior boys basketball team. #FriendlyNeighbours
March 7: Wanna be ballers, shot callers... Put on your bball tights, shooting sleeves and bring your broken game to the Madness
March 7: Hamber Sun Run Club. See Mrs McEachern to join. Contests like "out-run Dunne" and "slower then Sehmbi" to win prizes. #ImAReallyFastTurtle
March 14: Never underestimate the impact of those who are dedicated, passionate and caring. They will always leave an impression. #MakeYourMark
Jan. 28: Everybody wants to win. But it is when you learn to hate to lose that you can truly learn how to win.
Feb. 3: February, you will be tried and tested. No one owes you anything. Nothing is for sure. Every game might be your last. Play to play again.
Feb. 9: Senior girls basketball defeats JO 56-33. They play Magee tomorrow. #HammerTime #PleaseHammerDontHurtEm
Feb. 16: Trivia question: Mr. C Smith was a basktball star at which high school? And post secondary school? (Played with Jay Triano.)
Feb. 16: Our trivia winner is Janet Yee. Mr. Smith was a star with the Alpha Aztecs, SFU Clansmen and the Vancouver Grizzlies.
Feb. 16: Jk. Not the Grizzlies. [Jk means “just kidding.”]
Feb. 22: You never hear people who work hard complain. Those who dont work hard always have an excuse. #Sehmbism
Sept. 6: Don't practice until you get it right. Practice until you can't get it wrong. #Sehmbism
July 20: Hamber football working hard in the off-season. Preparation is power. Preparing for success. Results in a powerful performance!!!
July 20: You can't expect to be the best if you play a sport for 3 - 4 months. Part time athletes will get part time results.