By Tony Romain of 5 Stones Media
At Southeastern, one phrase has swept across the campus like wildfire. Students and fans are encouraged to “Lion Up!” to show their school spirit. But what does this phrase really mean? Where did it come from? The Lion's catchphrase has caught on heavily all throughout the athletics program, but its origin can be traced back to the baseball team in 2011.
“We played a different style,” said Athletic Director Jay Artigues. “We did some things unconditionally and we wanted to make sure we recognized that. That our players recognized that, and got excited when they saw us play what we call 'Lion Baseball.' We sat in the locker room one day and we came up with the L.”
The L is the gesture that accompanies the phrase. You make an L with your thumb and index finger on both hands and then place them on your head.
“Texas Tech does a 'Guns Up,' the University of Texas does the 'Hook 'em' horns. We wanted something to identify us,” said Artigues. “We wanted something to let everybody know that this is Lion Baseball; this is something positive.”
And it is something positive. It became more than just a phrase or a gesture, but a symbol of team pride.
“It's just one of those deals. It was kind of like a team type of deal where it brought us a camaraderie,” said Cody Gougler, Assistant Director of Athletic Development. Gougler is a former baseball player and was on the team when the phrase began to take hold.
“When it first started to catch on, we didn't have to force it,” said Artigues. “We got the guys to do it and then they started really understanding it, and then you see it done with instinct.”
By using the gesture at iconic moments, it was easy to get it to stick. Artigues recalls when Brock Hebert helped spread its awareness.
“I remember him hitting a double and sliding in head first and giving that 'Lion Up' sign at second base and it just took off,” he says. “Whatever we did and we were really excited about it, we gave the 'Lion Up' sign.”
The excitement spread to all areas of the athletics department.
“I watched the girls win the soccer conference championship this year,” said Artigues. “When our goalie blocked the winning goal she jumped up and gave the Lion Up sign. Man, I had tears in my eyes. It choked me up because to see it get to that point was awesome. It's pretty cool. And that's how it started, it just elevated from there. Football has taken it over and since they have and everybody 'Lions Up', that means the world to me. I love to see it.”
The phrase has also found its way into Hammond's community. Local businesses, schools and families also love to show their Lion Pride.
“I spoke to Holy Ghost and the whole student body 'Lioned Up,'” said Artigues. “That's awesome when you see a thousand elementary kids doing that and they all know that. When Ron Roberts turns around to the crowd and gives that sign, everybody knows what that means now. That's what it's about. That's what I'm excited about. Southeastern has a brand. Southeastern has something identifiable in a positive way. And when you 'Lion Up,' people start to understand that.”
It doesn't just stop in Hammond, either. There are students who have moved on from Southeastern and still carry their school pride with them.
“I had a message from some of our former student athlete graduates who are now in the United States Marine Corps in Kuwait,” said Gougler. “They sent us a message and said, 'Hey, can we get some stuff sent over? Can we get some flags for our barracks?' And they said at the very end, 'Good luck in the playoffs, Lion Up!' I mean it’s all around the world, so that's pretty awesome. It was cool to be a part of the beginning of that.”
'Lion Up' has become something that will long be ingrained in the history of Lion Athletics, all of Southeastern and the City of Hammond. Sports fans don't question it, they simply feel it. And for anyone with even just a little Lion Pride, it's just a way of life. But as with anything, skeptics will always exist. People always ask, “Well, what does 'Lion Up' mean, anyway?”
“It doesn't have a definition,” says Artigues. “It's not concrete. It's not black and white. To me it's something inside you; it's something you see. And I get excited when I talk about it and I get excited when I see it because of that. And guys like Cody Gougler who work here and used to be a former athlete, he understands what 'Lion Up' means. And to see them when you see it, there's no definition about it. So I love when people try to come up with a definition. There's not. It's something inside of you. It is what it is.”