Who are the Valkyrie?

Good question. The school mascot of Shawnee Mission West HS is the Viking and a Valkyrie is definitely a Viking thing.  According to Norse mythology the Valkyrie were hand maidens to the god Odin.  One of their jobs was to hover over the field of battle, choosing the victors and escorting fallen warriors to Valhalla – Viking heaven!

Ritual and Tradition:

[who we’ve been, who we are, who we aspire to be…]

Rituals are the little acts that bring and keep a group together. They are a way of coming together collectively around a shared vision or shared values to not only honor what may have taken place, but also acknowledge the inner transformation(s) involved in certain passages in life. Often, rituals include a sequence of acts that symbolically walk us through what was required to get to a certain point, but they can also call out what will be required of us to move forward in life. They are an outward expression what of a group of people collectively value.


The goal of each season is to reach the peak of our potential for that year as runners, but beyond that, as teammates, as students and as members of our community. There is no peak higher than Mt. Everest which sit along the borders of Nepal and Tibet in the Himalayas.  Throughout the Himalayas it is common to find brightly colored flags flying in the wind. These flags date back 1000’s of years to the Bon tradition of pre-Buddhist Tibet. They are typically square pieces of cotton fabric that come in sets of 5 different colors, printed with combinations of symbols, mantras (a series of words or a brief statement or slogan repeated frequently or meditated on for the purpose of inspiring a person to grow in positive values or overcome negative values), sutras (concise, eloquent and/or memorable expressions of a general truth or principle ) or prayers (a solemn request for help or for blessing). They are often found strung along mountain ridges in the Himalayas and are meant to impart blessings to the surrounding countryside.

New flags represent new hopes, expectations and/or aspirations and are, therefore, often hung at the beginning of a new year. It is considered good practice to hang new flags at dawn especially on sunny days and days that are windy. They should be hung high because it is considered disrespectful to let them touch the ground and also because they are intended to flutter in the wind. As the wind passes through the flags it both caresses the virtues on the flags and is, in turn, purified by them. The wind then carries the flag’s blessings and virtues with it wherever it travels. Older prayer flags that have been left outside, exposed to the elements, will over time become faded and tattered. This is actually by design as it is an auspicious indication that these prayers and blessings have gone on to become a part of the universe, part of us.

The flags come in 5 colors, each of which represents one of the 5 ancient elements and a direction (North, East, West, South and Center), and are always hung in the same order.

  • Blue = wind/sky
  • White = air
  • Red = fire
  • Green = water
  • Yellow = earth

Each year starting in 2019, as a team we select 5 Essential Elements or virtues that we believe will be important to the success and culture of our team. These Elements then make up the flags we fly from our tent at each meet to remind us of who we are, what we’re about and what we aspire to be.


Riddle: When is a stick more than just a stick? / Answer: When it is a stafur.

Training plans are not rituals but are important to our team because they act as a road map that shows us what we need to do in order to get from where we are to where we want to be. Those plans are important in the way that having a good map on any journey is important, but they are not as important as a team’s culture. This is because culture is what determines how faithful we are to following that map. It doesn’t matter how good a map is if we aren’t faithful to following it. Faithfulness is one of the most important, enduring and long-suffering virtues needed to progress in any great endeavor. Faithfulness is not a “sometimes” thing – it is an “always” thing or it is nothing at all. No one enters into a marriage hoping that their spouse will be faithful sometimes. As Aristotle said:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”

The weekly Stafur Ceremony (literally “stick” in Icelandic and the origin of the English word “staff”) is part of our team culture and is meant to be a reminder of this. Stafur is meant to be a reflection of the culture of our group and a celebration of the virtues we rally around and that in turn bring us together. It’s a proclamation of who we are, what we’re about, and what we believe in. It is a way of acknowledging what we are truly committed to – not just what we aspire to do or be, but what values we actually practice. Culture is what gives meaning and significance to what we do, and significance is ultimately what every person longs for on a deep level in their life. Again, a training plan is a map of our journey, but culture – culture is what we actually experience along the way and that is what sticks with us after it’s over.

Each week we recognize a teammate who has “stuck it.” In other words, someone who has demonstrated some virtue that we believe is important to the culture of our team and helps us to move forward as a group. That team member and that virtue are acknowledged in front of the rest of the team. They are presented with a stick as a representation of that contribution. A picture of them holding that stick out in front of them are then placed in a box, with our training plan or map for the season on the outside of it, along with all the other sticks from the season, as a reminder of:

who we are,

what we’re about,

what we believe in,

what we do,

how we do it

and why.

The challenge then to all of us then, each season, is to make this more than just a box of sticks.