When is a champion basketball team upstaged by a bunch of big red sacks? The Saxons of Joel E. Ferris High in Spokane find that it happens whenever the school's drill team presents its extraordinary Silly Sack routine at the state high school tournament in Seattle. The fans' reaction to the routine has been so enthusiastic that the Saxons' coach, Wayne Gilman, has been referred to at tournament games as "the one with the sack dance."
Silly Sacks are stretchy red bags made of Luxureen, a nylon-spandex fabric. Thirty members of the Ferris dance and drill team zip themselves into the bags and perform a routine that is by turns strange, enchanting and funny. During a three-minute dance that is set to the theme song from the movie Ghostbusters and the Huey Lewis tune The Heart of Rock & Roll, the Sacks hop like the fairies in Walt Disney's Fantasia, drop to the floor and move in unison to create a wildly beating heart, transform themselves into giant twirling playing cards and shrink into wizened phantoms. Pom-pom shakers they're not: Laker Girls from Mars is more like it.
Last year, as Coach Gilman's team was winning the Washington State AAA championship, it was the Sacks who grabbed much of the attention. They were written up in The Seattle Times, featured on TV news programs and beamed statewide during coverage of the championship game.
"It was so bizarre that it was actually kind of cool," says Carlos Del Valle, a sports anchor with KING5-TV who included the sack dance in his tournament coverage. "I've never seen anything like it."
The sack dance is the brainchild of Nancy Butz, a home and family-life teacher at Ferris High who has been coaching the dance and drill team for 10 years. For the 1991 Rubber Chicken, the annual basketball game between Ferris and Lewis and Clark High, Butz wanted to unveil a new routine that would win the school-spirit competition. "We wanted to break out of the traditional niche and do some progressive things," she says. "The theme of that year's Rubber Chicken game was. Our Hearts Go Out to You, and I wondered what we could do."
Butz remembered having seen a videotape of kids at a summer camp dancing inside bags to the Ghostbusters theme, and from that the Silly Sack routine was born. With help from her students, she choreographed a show that began and ended with the Sacks forming an enormous heart and "beating" in time to heartbeat sound effects.
At the Rubber Chicken game, however, the Sacks laid an egg. "It was so bizarre that people didn't know what to do," recalls Butz. "They didn't know if it was supposed to be funny or serious. My kids came off the floor and asked, 'What did we do wrong?' I said, 'Nothing. They just didn't get it.' We lost the Rubber Chicken that year."
It was a different story later that season at the state tournament in Seattle. After the Ferris drill team performed its sack dance during a first-round game, word got out about the show.
"What was incredible was that nobody left their seats during halftime," recalls Joe Bullock, then the director of the boys' AAA tournament. "People were running to the tunnels trying to get a look. Folks weren't sitting and watching; they were standing."
Except for a few elementary school appearances by the Silly Sacks, the red bags were folded up and put away until last year's tournament. And although no teams from Ferris made it to the championship this year, the Sacks, who will be missed in Seattle, are keeping their routine honed in the hope of being called up again at the end of next season.