By Todd Martin
Special to the Daily Herald
A week of homecoming activities at Manor Middle School reflected a spirit revival at the 40-year-old school.
The sixth- through eighth-grade campus conducted a pep rally and expanded its pre-game ritual at its football games. Students and staff also joined in a faculty-student volleyball game and took part in a homecoming celebration.
The occasion was the school's 40th anniversary, but the celebration seemed to speak more to the present and the future of the school.
Principal Joseph Welch took the reins of the school at mid-year last school year.
Dressed in bright Manor red at the school's homecoming pep rally, Welch took the microphone and led the rocking gym in the school's new theme song, a rap called "Manor University."
Welch also played an active role in the faculty-student volleyball game, which ended with students winning a game, staff winning a game and a tie in the third game.
"It's about school spirit," said Welch, "about students taking ownership. When they have pride in their school, they do better academically."
"Kids love doing these things," the principal said, "it promotes a positive environment."
A group of female staff members lined up at the center of the gym to show off their flowing homecoming mums. One of the corsages included a tiny water-filled bowl with a fish. Another of the ornate decorations played music.
The pep rally also served as the debut for Manor's new inflated tunnel, a common sight at high school football games, but a first for a Killeen ISD middle school.
Also new at Manor is a pep squad, including a team of flag runners, also common at high school events. A parent made the flags, which spell out the school's Rams mascot.
The rally included performances from the school's cheerleaders and their award-winning Flames dance team, as well as the band and some fired-up faculty members.
PE teacher Tarsha Graves showed off her fish, named Dodge Ram, swimming about in its mum bowl. "It's so exciting, so much fun," she said. "The teachers got involved with the mums. I don't think I had this much fun in high school."
The fun and games do have significant purpose.
Welch, who came to Manor from Ellison High School, where he was an assistant principal, said for students to get to college it's important to arrive at high school understanding what it means to be a student.
He wants the middle school experience to train students to be ready for high school so they have a better shot at success beyond.
The "Manor University" theme song, written by an Ellison graduate, describes college as an expectation.
The songwriter, who goes by the stage name of Rashard, spent time at Manor walking through the halls and interacting with students and staff. Welch said Rashard shared with him that he felt like the middle school was fostering a college-like atmosphere and he suggested the name for the theme song.
"Our new principal put together these new events for us and it's making school more fun," said eighth-grader Shivam Patel.
"The (homecoming) game was way different. We have the tunnel now, everything we could ask for," the eighth-grader said. "It inspires us that we know he supports us."