Challenge accepted: Students, staff play school-spirit building games in Cougar Challenge

Trevor Nichols, staff writer

Teachers and students are missing from their usual classrooms. In the ninth grade gym, the missing students and faculty are gathered in circles, holding hands, some crying and some laughing. The emotion is almost visible in the air.

At the forefront of it all is a group spirit, a communal appreciation for all the others in the massive room. This group spirit is the purpose of the event, the message that the participants hope to carry on to the rest of the school: the Cougar Challenge.

“About two years ago the then-current class presidents wanted to change the culture of Cinco Ranch High School,” class of 2013 president and junior John Liner said. “Stephanie Gonzalez, the 2011 class president, Paige Hegedus, the 2012 class president, Courtney Reid, the 2014 class president, and myself, the class of 2013 president, came to the conclusion that the best way to do that would be through an event where students would be able to see how easily they can influence the people they come in contact with, whether it be positive or negative. In addition, we wanted people to see that no single person deserves to be labeled, isolated, or bullied because they are labeled ‘different.’”

The Cougar Challenge was created to address these concerns of unkind treatment of others and a lack of a united student body. The class presidents were not disappointed.

“The Cougar Challenge began with students being broken up into several groups and eating lunch while discussing an introductory ice breaker,” Liner said. “During the Cougar Challenge, both teachers and students participated in a wide variety of interactive, team oriented activities that, while fun, carried very meaningful messages. Many students likened the event to MTV’s ‘If You Really Knew Me.’”

These activities, all in the event on Jan. 13, spread the messages of the effects of attitudes on other people and the hardships that many people go through. They were designed to be creative and fun to spread the message more effectively. Students and teachers both became emotional.

 “My favorite game at Cougar Challenge was the activity where we were supposed to share our feelings,” English teacher Marcia Simmons said. “I paired up with a student, and we started out very shallow, but as time went on we went deeper and things got very emotional.”

These activities had a profound effect on many of the participants, and the Cougar Challenge often became emotional quickly.

“I think that I was most strongly impacted by the combination of the all the previous activities when they had us hold hands with a partner and compared our reactions then to our reactions in the games before,” math teacher Steven Fish said. “We saw how when we were playing the games, we had no problem touching each other, almost hugging each other in some of the games, but when we were saying really emotional things to each other, it became really awkward just to be holding hands. That really made me stop and think, I wonder why people are like that. Some people started crying and it got very emotional. It was a really powerful experience.”

As the Challenge continued, students and teachers warmed up to the activities and the messages that they were trying to convey.

“At first I was a bit hesitant about Cougar Challenge,” junior Luis Espinoza said. “I pretty much just viewed it as a way to get out of four classes and get a free lunch. But as the event went on, I started to learn more about the problems we have in our school and what I can do to help to address them, and it turned out to be a really powerful message.”

Some of the day’s many activities were brought together and the message was carried home to the students and teachers present in a final activity.

“The Cougar Challenge was tied together with a virtually silent activity, ‘Cross the Line,’” Liner said. “It was a powerful tool that helped many realize, that regardless of their past, or present, good or bad, that they are not alone.”

The ‘Cross the Line’ activity was the favorite of many of the students and teachers at Cougar Challenge, and also one of the most emotional.

“My favorite activity was definitely the crossing the line activity,” junior Brooke James said. “It was so powerful. It was just eye-opening to watch some of your own classmates and people that you’ve known your whole life putting it all out there for everybody to see, and it was cool to see that they have been through exactly what you have. Like it was easier to see that you were never alone.”

The Cougar Challenge was then wrapped up after the activities were over with verbal challenges for students and teachers to act on what they learned in the event.

“The ‘Challenge’ of this event was issued by various participants in the closing minutes of the Cougar Challenge,” Liner said. “The challenges issued were never written down, or staged. Instead they came straight from the heart of the individuals who chose to speak.”

Participants of the event have tried to carry on the messages of Cougar Challenge to the rest of the school.

“I think that there are two lessons that we should carry away from this and pass on to the rest of the school,” Fish said. “Lesson one is to extend friendship to others and to try to be kind to others around us. Lesson two is that sometimes we forget to be forgiving when others don’t do that with us. It really goes in two directions. One of the things that they talked about was how you never knew how a person’s day is going, so you should try to be understanding when somebody doesn’t act the way they should.”

Some students learned lessons from the activities that they think are especially valuable for other students to learn.

“Instead of treating their fellow students that may think or act differently than they do in a negative manner, they wanted to encourage their fellow students to try befriending that person and see what happens,” James said. “Kindness is contagious, after all.”

Additionally, some teachers saw additional lessons that they think the faculty in particular should try to learn from.

“I think that the lesson for the faculty to take away from this is to have more empathy for the students and to make sure that we’re thinking about what they have going on in their lives,” Simmons said. “Sometimes we can get so caught up in the teaching, and trying to make sure that the students know everything they need to know, that we forget who they are as people.”

Although the event has passed, the Cougar Challenge is far from being over. There are daily posts on the Cougar Challenge Facebook page, from inspirational videos to new challenges. The participants also gathered on Jan. 27th to continue the lessons that the first event began. Making posters that now hang in the hallways, they continued to spread the message of the Challenge.

“I think it would be awesome to watch everybody follow through on bringing people up instead of putting them down,” James said. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell between being funny and being actually hurtful. Also, it would be cool to have the cliques at our school break down, so everybody would be friends with everybody, and there would be less people left out.”

Through the Facebook page, new events, and memories of the Cougar Challenge’s activities, participants intend to keep the message alive.

“From the oldest person on campus to the youngest person on campus, I think we all need these reminders of what it means to be human,” McConnell said. “To remind us that we are all flawed, but at the same time we’re all very gifted. This is the lesson I hope that we can carry on from Cougar Challenge to the rest of the school.”