By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Highlands High School has definitely caught on to the wave of nicknamed student sections throughout the country.
The Highlands version is called the OZone. The students occupy the northernmost section of the six seating sections of David Cecil Memorial Stadium on football Friday nights in the fall. They are seen all the way to the left from the home side of the stadium. They cheer on their team and come up with spirit shirts as school projects.
Highlands graduate Chris Owens started the theme years ago. Senior basketball player Jake Gronotte is among those leading the cheers during football season.
“I had a lot of fun last year,” Gronotte said. “I looked up to most of the seniors that did it. I thought it would be fun to carry on what they did last year and get the school spirit raised some.”
One thing that Gronotte and his classmates started this year was an Ozone Twitter account. It has 337 followers as of Saturday morning.
“We have the majority of the school following us,” Gronotte said. “We also have some parents and members of the community (following). I think the school board follows us as well.”
The seniors sit on the bottom rows of the student section. The freshmen sit at the top and move down as they move up in grades.
Gronette and the cheerleaders said the Twitter account has helped the freshman become acclimated to the OZone culture. Freshman Braden Howard said he learned the cheer, “Do it” on Twitter.
“If you go to Twitter and see OZone, I can tell you the theme,” Howard said. “Some of the freshmen are not active and don’t really know the cheers because they’re new to the high school. It really helps you learn them.”
For each football game this year, the OZone has come up with a theme. The students did a “Blue Out” for the Scott County game and a “Black Out” for the Covington Catholic game. They had a Camouflage theme for Friday’s game against Pendleton County.
“I think our kids are doing a great job this year,” said Brian Robinson, Highlands High Principal. “Our focus has been to try to be as excited as you can be. Come and have a great time at our event and cheer on our team, but have your enthusiasm and be excited about cheering for your team in positive ways. Try not to focus your attention on the other team.”
It helps that the students cheer for the football team with the second-most wins in the country all-time. That total stands at 835 with Friday’s 70-0 win over Pendleton County. Only Valdosta High in southern Georgia has more with 873.
The OZone has helped cheer the Bluebirds to some big wins this year. Highlands has beaten Covington Catholic, Boyle County and Scott County at home this year during a 44-game winning streak at Cecil Memorial. The stands are directly behind the visiting team.
“I don’t know if it makes us play better,” said Mitch Dee, Highlands senior center. “In big games, it really helps us out. They make it a tough place to play for opponents.”
The OZone leaders, cheerleaders and dance team members work together to cheer during the game. Gronotte or a classmate will talk strategies with them throughout the evening.
“The OZone makes us pumped to do really well,” said freshman Megan Reynolds, Highlands Dance Team member. “We pump them up too and we pump up the fans. The OZone is just really supportive of our sport. We work together because we know Highlands football is important to the whole community so we don’t care about who is against who.”
The OZone, cheerleaders and dance team members have had some challenges throughout the last couple years. That was the case Friday when Highlands led 49-0 at halftime. But a good majority of the students showed up and stayed the entire game. The rain did not fall until after the game.
“It’s hard to keep attention, especially when we’re up by so many points,” said senior Megan Maley, Highlands cheerleader. “We work together to have fun and joke around with the cheers and such. We have to keep things alive.”
The OZone has shown up at other events as well. The students plan to keep things going for a long time. But during basketball season, Gronotte will pass the Twitter account to another student.
The OZone has plenty of opportunities to cheer for the Highlands fall teams this week. The volleyball team plays in the District 36 tournament Tuesday and possibly Wednesday at Newport High and the soccer teams face Newport Central Catholic on Thursday at Tower Park for the District 36 crowns at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Then the football team travels to Covington Holmes for a crucial district contest at 7 p.m.