Putting on a new kind of game face

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 30, 2012 - 7:55 AM

Whether smart, sassy or silly, high school sports team photos are anything but boring these days.

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In one of the more enduring decisions of their young lives, Michelle Lynch and her teammates opted to go with "the flow."

Instead of posing for the kind of standard team photo that inevitably ends up in a drawer somewhere, Lynch and her Maple Grove lacrosse mates spent a half-hour in a bathroom, spraying and teasing and poofing their hair, then augmented the 'dos with stern, steely stares.

The photo "turned out great," Lynch said. "It's a weird kind of team bonding, I guess, but it worked."

While high school teams still pose for standard yearbook shots -- Maple Grove's included the "flow" but with smiling faces -- many teen teams over the past five years have moved toward "themed" photos.

"The biggest trend by far is more of those types of photos," said Dan Leitch, who took the lacrosse team shots. "Six or seven years ago, you never saw that."

In that vein, Leitch, who owns Prep Sports Photography with sister Kathy Gibson, might find themselves at a Medicine Lake beach shooting the Robbinsdale Armstrong girls' swim team draped around a large dragon statue, or in "gangsta" poses. Or on a field taking dozens of individual or "buddy" photos, or a set of small-group poses to create a horizontal "composite" poster.

"Parents want something that's more traditional," Leitch said. "Mom might have the same style of photo of all her kids on the refrigerator or a wall and wants all the shots to match.

"But kids themselves want something more offbeat. If that's what you want, we'll shoot it -- as long as you're going to buy some."

But even standard photos have a lot more flair these days. Linhoff Photography focuses on youth groups, and owner Jim Linhoff said that over the past five years, "we're seeing the high schools trying to come up with an alternative to the basic." Along with smaller "teammate photos," the athletes often opt for a "keepsake poster, with the team in various poses, knocking out the backgrounds. It's all about giving them options, trying to be creative.

Of course, getting high school students to be creative is not exactly a challenge. At Eastview High School in Apple Valley, the team-photo themes have broadened mightily, said Athletic Director Matt Percival.

Some are inspirational (the dance team's "The Power Within" and soccer's "We Are 11"), others a bit farther afield. "The baseball team adopted the Hawaiian phrase 'ohana' for family," Percival said, "and posed in shorts and jersey with leis around their necks.

"That's very much the norm, kind of a play on their theme. They try to tie it in to their team slogan or team motto."

At Minnetonka High, themed team posters adorn the wall outside the west gymnasium, and "it looks pretty sharp," said activities director Ted Schultz.

Digital technology is behind the move toward keepsake photos and posters, since it allows professional photographers and even parents to both photograph a team and Photoshop a theme.

"Everybody does lightning striking in the background or having them posed on a mountaintop," Schultz said.

These kinds of panoramic posters came to the fore around the turn of the century, said Ron Berry, who started creating such "recognition photos" when his children were in high school.

While the participants can personalize the depiction with outfits or props, the aim is to portray them democratically -- "the captains who usually are in the center are no more prominent than the freshmen and sophomores on the side" -- and to hold up the accomplishment of just being there.

"We treat them as reaching what for some of them is the pinnacle of their sporting career," Berry said.

Ron Berry Images' primary customer base is a booster club rather than the school or individuals. These posters are promotional and branding tools, a digital, distant descendant of having the local high school's football schedule hanging in a barbershop.

There's one small problem with the "shoot for the moon" approach: Each school year brings a new team, and thus a "How do you top this?" quandary.

As part of a junior-dominated squad, Lynch acknowledges that there's a challenge ahead. "We thought of this one the day before we had pictures," she said. "We might put a lot more thought into next year."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

  • related content

  • The Maple Grove girls' varsity lacrosse team opted for a hairstyle they call "the flow" and an overly serious look for their silly team photo.

  • The Robbinsdale Armstrong girls' swim team joked around.

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