Everyone wants to be involved in social media, using Facebook and Twitter to market their products, engage with customers or just get people excited about what they're selling. That's true of Centreville (Va.) High, too, it's just that the school is marketing a rather untraditional commodity: High school football.
As artfully laid out by Washington Post sports writer Paul Tenorio, Centreville has been incredibly inventive in developing new ways of connecting with its broad base of fans via the mediums they use the most. The school plans all of its fan "white-outs" and "blue-outs" on its official Wildcats Football Facebook page. Fans can check the team's online schedule to discover a host of NCAA or NFL-styled promotional giveaways, with the likes of free towels and flags to support Centreville.
Perhaps most impressively, Centreville fans never have to worry about scrambling for a team roster. There's an app for that.
The creative, all-inclusive team marketing efforts are the brainchild of Centreville director of student activities Carlos Sanabria, a former Disney guest relations employee and assistant football coach who has used any and all means to re-connect the school's thriving football program with a fan base Sanabria indicated had become disconnected from the school.
"I think we've definitely hit all technology known to man," Sanabria told the Post. "[In the late 1990s and early 2000s] we never really lost and the fans were always there. When that finally settled down I had to figure something out, especially when things weren't going well, to make sure people wanted to come out and support the kids. You think, 'What else can you do so people are always feeling good about the school and the community?'"
As he alluded to, Sanabria has certainly tried everything, and most of it has worked. The school installed a $70,000 video board in 2004, brought in "contour seating" (permanent chairback seats) for boosters to help pay for his initiatives and even plans pre and post-game meet ups for its student body via mass text messages.
"We can make announcements -- that's antiquated. We can put it on the marquee -- that's antiquated," Centreville Principal Mike Campbell said. "You send text messages, kids get it. 'Hey, buses [to Charlottesville], 10 bucks.' Kids get that stuff. And Jimmy gets that."
Now, what Centreville gets is that the community as a whole needs to be a part of a winning football program. Make no mistake, Centreville has become a very winning program. The team competed in the Virginia AAA Div. 6 state title game on Saturday -- Centreville eventually fell to RivalsHigh 100 No. 99 Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith, 47-21 -- after earning the team's first Regional title since 2000, when the team also won the state crown.
If you ask Sanabria, there's no coincidence that the current team's rise has coincided with what can only be considered the highest level of fan engagement that the school has ever known. In turn, Sanabria and Campbell hope the community will benefit in the long term, with the town at large supporting a program on the verge of establishing itself as an perennial state power.
"For the boys, when they walk out they're just going to see they are a part of something bigger than themselves," Sanabria told the Post. "They are the ones we are cheering for, but they understand, when they see everything, we're part of a community that supports us. And in turn, they'll support the community."