2016 in Review: The Spirit Squadron

As I recall my first year as a sports writer, I thought it would be fun to share a few career highlights!

It’s hard to pick a favorite supporters group profile, so I’ll preview the first in my recap.  I’ve met some amazing fans this year.  The stories and voices of supporters is just as important as the voices of the coaches, owners and players.  It takes a village to #GrowTheGame

Behind Every Team: The Spirit Squadron of the Washington Spirit.

April 4, 2016|Erica Ayala

MyWSports believes that in order to see women’s sports grow, it will take fans, players and sports writers alike to #GrowTheGame. In a new series, we will be profiling arguably the most enthusiastic people behind the teams, the fans.  

If you watched the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) College Draft, you certainly heard the Spirit Squadron, even if you’ve never heard of them. The supporters group for the Washington Spirit was there ready to embrace its newest players. The Washington fans made roughly four hours of college draft coverage even more awesome, so MyWSports decided to find out more about the spirited group. We caught up with Megan Wesson & Angie Kanellopulos from the Spirit Squadron to discuss the upcoming NWSL season and the growth of women’s soccer.

“Cheyna Williams actually came over and chatted with us for a minute or two,” recalls Angie, “She was a lot of fun to talk to, and she let us know that she appreciated all the noise that we were making and she was excited to come play [for the Spirit].  And that’s all it was. We wanted to go [to the draft] and have a good time and represent D.C well.”

Represent they did, even getting a shout out at the conclusion of the draft. During his final remarks, Commissioner Jeff Plush stated, “And last but certainly not least, thanks to our friends in the corner from the Washington Spirit Fan Group …”.

However, before props from Commissioner Plush, the Spirit Squadron was birthed by two soccer fans eager to have a local(ish) team to root for. In 2013, Megan Wesson and Ashley Nichols co-founded the Spirit Squadron.  In the same year, the Washington Spirit was named one of the eight original clubs for the current (and longest lasting) professional domestic soccer league.

 Humble Beginnings

Although Megan and Ashley live over 3 hours away from Washington, D.C, the two were still excited to develop a fan group to support the new team. Wanting to emphasize the club name, spirit, the Spirit Squadron was the name selected for the group. Megan, Ashley and a few friends found on social media began attending Washington preseason games together.

Other members like Angie, current Vice President & Lead Drummer, were recruited during games. Angie had already been keeping up with the Washington Spirit on Twitter, as well as attending games before she became involved, “I think [Spirit Squadron] was just a suggested Twitter handle that I should follow … I was at a game by myself during the preseason, [so] I just sat with them and never went away.”

By offering fans the opportunity to enjoy a game, and the occasional tailgate, the small group began to grow its numbers. “That first year was … from the beginning I think it was about four people when the season started”, recalls Angie, “by the end of the season, we had between fifteen and twenty who showed up pretty regularly, so that was pretty cool.” Squadron fans range in age and profession, but most are women.   Although the average age of Squadron members is about 30, the group is committed to creating a welcoming environment that all people, especially families, can enjoy.

Gaining Spirit

Although good, clean family fun is a priority, so is serious cheering.  After the first season, Megan and other members strategized the best ways to be a positive, motivating force for the players, as well as other fans.  Knowing the history of domestic women’s soccer leagues, the growing squadron was unsure that team, or the league would return.  However, the group planned for the best.  Despite finishing last with 14 points from 3 wins, 14 losses and 5 draws, the momentum for the Spirit Squadron took off.

In the offseason, the supporters group coordinated cheers and secured a drum to keep on beat. Megan also recall that the group began to focus on the players, as opposed to the team generally, “ … we didn’t have the best year the first year, but we knew that the team was going to grow and they were going to improve, so we kinda wanted to support the players …”  As it turned out, this approach also helped gain more regular members, “Once the players started interacting with us, saying ‘Hey we like this, this is great’, then more people got excited and more people wanted to be a part of it.”  Megan likened the group and the players to a family, even after just one season.

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