Wilson Elementary School partners with Tigers in Fort Hays State University spirit program


By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- An effort to get the entire community involved in Fort Hays State University activities made a huge in-roads last week at Wilson Elementary School in Hays.

Nearly 400 students in kindergarten through fifth grade lined up with their teachers for an all-school photo Friday afternoon wearing gold shirts they had received earlier that day.
While the youngsters were more excited about hanging out with Victor E. Tiger -- FHSU's official mascot -- the adults watching the interaction on the playground north of the school building were just as pleased about the significance of the event.

The shirts they wore bore their usual Wilson Warriors logo on the front. But the back tag between the shoulderblades said TGOF, signifying FHSU's initiative to get schools involved in the Tiger Gold On Friday program.

"How do you put a price on this?" Taryn Leiker asked as she watched the excitement all around her. "I wish we could bottle this. This is the pride we need in our community."

Fort Hays State -- along with Eagle Communications as the corporate sponsor for T-shirts -- began the TGOF program on campus three years ago, and FHSU started spreading it into the community through business partnerships.

When Dr. Mirta M. Martin arrived on campus as the university's new president in the summer of 2014, she brought with her the goal of including the entire community as part of one big Fort Hays State family.

At a downtown community event later that summer, Leiker's husband, James, then president of the Hays USD 489 Board of Education, gave Martin one idea how to do that.

How about having students in our local schools wear gold on Fridays, getting the younger generation involved in Tiger pride, he suggested.

The idea sounded good to Martin, and Leiker knew just where to begin such a project.
He and his wife, Taryn, are the parents of two children attending Wilson Elementary, and Taryn Leiker is a former member of Wilson's Home and School Association.

Taryn Leiker contacted all the elementary schools in the spring, but most of them had already chosen their design for spirit shirt orders for the coming school year.

But Leiker had a special connection with Wilson, where a friend of hers, Brenda Bickle, is current president of Wilson's Home and School.

Bickle ran with the idea and had the Wilson Home and School group purchased shirts for all the students and staff and faculty.

"I thought, 'Why not?' " Bickle said. "The more black and gold, the better."

Bickle and her husband, Ryan Bickle, both are graduates of Fort Hays State and have become avid Tiger supporters over the years.

"I can remember going to Fort Hays State games as a kid," said Ryan Bickle, a native of Hays. "It's pretty cheap entertainment, and a way to have a lot of fun with your family. We've become full-blown fans."

Currently, more than 20 businesses have jumped on board with the TGOF program as official members. So there is a lot of gold shirts around town on Fridays these days.
There promises to be a whole lot more at Wilson Elementary, the first school to become a TGOF partner.

"I had several parents email me or text me over the weekend who thought it was so great to have Victor come to school," Bickle said, "and they really liked the shirts."

Bickle -- financial services coordinator for the CPA firm Adams, Brown, Beran and Ball -- is used to wearing gold on Friday as ABBB is involved with the TGOF program.

The program was the brainchild of a focus group looking at designs for a generational T-shirt for the FHSU Alumni Association in 2012.

"People wanted a better way to show Tiger spirit on campus," said Charlene Nichols, chair of that committee and assistant alumni director at FHSU. "Of the three T-shirt designs, people seemed to really like the gold."

A partnership was born among the FHSU Alumni Association, FHSU Athletics, the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce and Eagle Communications. The committee, a subcommittee of FHSU's BrandIT! Committee, promotes school spirit by encouraging the campus and Hays community to wear gold shirts on Friday.

"I think it's starting to catch on," Bickle said. "But I think we have a long ways to go. Within businesses, we need to promote it more, get more people active with it. Then it can be a snowball effect."

That's what Bickle and Leiker are hoping for with the Wilson shirts.

"If we get the kids involved and they want to go to games, their parents will take them," Bickle said. "There are a lot of great family activities at Fort Hays State, and we have them right here in our back yard."

The Wilson Warriors/TGOF shirts got a lot of exposure immediately. A lot of the students wore them that evening in the Hays High School homecoming parade.

"That was awesome to see," Leiker said. "There was a lot of gold in our group of students."

Among those lining up for an all-school photo Friday was Wilson's principal, Tom Meagher, who earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees from Fort Hays State. His wife, Patty, also is an FHSU graduate, and five of their six children attended the university in their back yard, including their youngest, Becky, a freshman this year.

"I think they realized that Fort Hays State was as good of school as others they were looking at," Meagher said, "and Mom and Dad had both gone there and gotten good educations."

The Meaghers still attend FHSU events regularly, and Tom is pleased that Wilson is the first to be a school TGOF partner and that other schools get on board next year.

Leiker knows it's a start. As she watched the students jostling for position to visit with Victor E. Tiger Friday, she talked about how she hopes the idea of TGOF shirts catches on with other schools.

"It's grass roots," she said. "Wouldn't it be great to get this many adults on a playground, displaying this kind of spirit?"

Any schools or businesses wishing to become a TGOF partner can visit the FHSU web site at www.fhsu.edu/TGOF/registration or call Melissa Dixon, co-chair of the TGOF committee, at 785-628-4741.

Back to top