The teams from Mesa and Chandler were in the fifth set of a spirited girls’ volleyball match. As the score went back and forth, the crowd went wild with each passing point.
Fans from both Chandler and Mesa are present. But in the front row aren’t the parents of the players, coaches or even other female students. It’s the Mesa boys’ wrestling program, practically on the court, making the most noise.
“We’ve taken it upon ourselves as the wrestling team to adopt them as a team we want to cheer for,” said Tallyn Rhoades, the junior varsity coach for the boys’ wrestling team.
After every home game his team stays and picks up the trash left by spectators. But what started out as a way to fundraise for his boys, Rhoades quickly saw the bigger picture.
He recalls the first game the team went to, noticing a lack of support from the crowd.
“We’re like getting into it and we’re cheering them on and I’m like, man, not even the parents are really doing it,” said Rhoades.
The unofficial spirit squad of Mesa High started two years ago and has quickly turned into an after-school organization, getting together hours before the first ball is hit. Students will meet in Rhoades’ classroom before the game and socialize with their teammates, often playing Super Smash Bros on the Nintendo Switch.
The goal of this organization is clear though: To teach his team the value of sportsmanship and being there for one another.
“We tell the older kids to start taking kids under their wing, like go and tell a kid I’d really like to see you there tonight,” said Rhoades.
He then explained how upperclassmen such as Emilio Sanchez and Preston Arriola will take other students out to lunch or give them a ride to wherever they need to be.
“It’s kind of a way to build up that camaraderie and build up our team as well,” Rhoades later calling Sanchez “captain school spirit”.
A philosophy Rhoades preaches is respect, which is clear in his teams’ cheers, as they never heckle their opposition.
“We’re not here to boo them, we’re here to cheer us,” said Rhoades
These efforts have not gone unnoticed, as head coach Amy Strawn of the girls’ volleyball team appreciates the growing support.
“They’ve become our super fans,” said Strawn, posing for a picture with the wrestling team after the game.
While the coaches may have started this new tradition, the students are the ones driving it.
“All we were supposed to do was be there after the game and clean the bleachers and break down the gym. But it was our wrestlers who said, “Let’s go to the game and cheer our volleyball girls on,” said head wrestling coach David DiDomenico. He later added, “all the coaches had to do was provide and guide.”
Additionally, DiDomenico has helped build a culture with his program that is parallel with Strawn and her girls, using the wrestling teams’ motto to describe it.
“Coach Strawn’s players perform and behave like our wrestlers do: they show up, work hard and be coachable,” said DiDomenico
DiDomenico knows all about this mindset, teaching his boys that it is more than just competing.
“We go cheer on our fellow athletes because, no matter what their craft, it is an honor and privilege to wear the Purple and Gold with Mesa across your chest,” said DiDomenico
With the volleyball season winding down, the wrestling team plans to go to all of the girls’ remaining games. Win or lose, the boys will continue to cheer on the girls, always being the loudest ones there.
Amiliano Fragoso is a sports journalism student at Arizona State's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism covering Mesa High School athletics.