Merrillville High School has added a brand-new team to its lineup of student activities and organizations.
For the first time in its history, Merrillville High School has a step team, offering a continuation of the thriving Purple Reign Step Team activities students at Merrillville's Pierce Middle School have enjoyed since 2017.
Merrillville has the only school-sponsored step teams in Northwest Indiana. Stepping is a percussive, highly-energetic art form that was first developed through the song and dance rituals performed by African-American fraternities and sororities. It's modern-day roots date all the way back to the early 1900s.
According to step coach Elizabeth Hardy, family and consumer sciences teacher at Pierce Middle School, “A lot of the girls went on to high school and wanted to continue the journey they’ve started.”
“When I first began coaching at Pierce, I had quite a few high schoolers who asked if I’d ever bring the team to MHS,” Ms. Hardy said. “I realized that just like the students in middle school were looking for a safe place and community, so are the high schoolers.”
She said the team provides participants with a bond, family and a place to be themselves.
“I believe that this is the time to help the students grow, learn, and step into the person they were created to be,” Ms. Hardy said. “This is the opportunity to help students gain trust, respect, maturity, and responsibility.
“For example, a person who is shy and quiet in the classroom can be amazing at stepping and strolling, but they just need that extra encouragement to step out of their shell,” she continued. “It helps build their confidence and step out of their comfort zones as well. The team helps the students be the best version of themselves in the classroom, in the hallways, at home, and definitely when it’s time for them to perform.”
Pierce Middle School Principal Lafonda Morris shared other positives that have resulted from having Purple Reign at her school.
“There are two very important things that have taken place due to our step team: most important is that it gives the young ladies something to do because not everyone is an athlete,” she said. “It gives them an incentive to do well in school, and it gives the opportunity to display their talents.
“The second important thing is that it gives the parents a reason to come to the building and see the positive things that are happening here at CPMS, to be proud and have the opportunity to boast about their child's talents, and an opportunity for those parents and students to bond as a group and become great role models for the building,” Mrs. Morris added.
The Pierce Purple Reign Step Team was founded by teacher LaShawn Ballard during the 2017-18 school year with the purpose to enhance each student’s intellectual, physical, social, moral and cultural development. The mission is to promote academic achievement, unity and leadership within a diverse organization, through teamwork and to encourage self-respect, discipline and community responsibility.
Mrs. Morris believes Purple Reign’s activities also motivates students to start thinking about their futures.
“Some of the young ladies have yet to think about going to college,” Mrs. Morris said. “Since there is a rich history with Divine 9 sororities/fraternities stepping, this may cause these students to not only enroll in college but to pledge and give back to the community. Anything that will increase the desire for my students to enroll in college and attain a degree is a good thing!”
Over the years, Pierce’s Purple Reign has performed at basketball games and competed at contests in Illinois and also near Indianapolis. The team even won three trophies.
Ms. Hardy, who took over coaching the team during the 2019-20 school year, said she didn’t start stepping and strolling till she joined Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated in 2019.
Last year, the Purple Reign Step Team competed virtually and won their first one-minute competition, which was a worldwide contest, she said. This year will be the teams’ first in-person competitions since Hardy became coach.
The teams have been hard at work, meeting separately to practice for their halftime shows and prepare for their performances at the Merrillville Community School Corporation’s upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. community brunch on Jan. 15, 2022, and also at their Jan. 29, 2022, competition.
Ms. Hardy said she hopes one day to have one big team that will even include intermediate school students.