COLUMN: A Recipe for Charger Spirit
By: Dr. Anthony Swinehart, Professor of Biology, Hillsdale College
Posted: 2/28/08 HillsdaleCollegian.com
I’ve always said Hillsdale College is the Notre Dame of Division II athletics: small, outstanding academics, battling against universities 10 times its size, facing recruiting challenges due to its standards, but darn good at competing in athletics anyway.
One thing making Hillsdale different from Notre Dame is that Notre Dame has strong fan support at its athletic events and Hillsdale does not.
With the exception of a few academic contests, athletics is the primary “ambassador” of the college. Regardless of our personal interests, we should all rejoice when Hillsdale athletes bring home a victory. We can all take ownership of that victory as members of a collegiate family.
So what can be done to improve fan participation at athletic events? I can only speak for football and basketball, because I think, in terms of arm-chair fan: interest and numbers. These are the marquis sports, and they are the sports I know best.
I know most of the 65,000 fans in Purdue’s Ross-Ade stadium on Saturdays in the fall are not serious students of the game of football. The lady sitting next to me doesn’t even understand what’s going on half the time, but she is having a ball nonetheless.
Because 1.) she loves her school, and 2.) the game day atmosphere is such that you don’t have to be a sports analyst to enjoy the game. So what can be done to bring people to football games, for example? Here are my ideas, for what they’re worth.
It all hinges largely on crowd engagement and making the atmosphere fun during time-outs, etc. Commission someone to write a fight song that is as classy and easy to sing by the masses as our Alma Mater. Surely there is a gifted music alumnus or alumna who would be happy to draft something for consideration.
Currently, we have “Charge On” for the football team. It is hideous and hard to sing. We have another fight song played at basketball games that sounds like a TV jingle, and no one knows the words. Adopt a great fight song passing out the words at the game and in the programs. Make it part of student orientation as many schools do.
Cancel the high school mercenary bands and field a small Hillsdale marching band. I’m sure there are 30 to 40 students at Hillsdale College who were members of a high school band or play an instrument. Incentives? How about one or two credit hours in the same curriculum category as social dance? I’ll bet a donor would be elated to provide some uniforms in the spirit of the continental freedom fighters of the American Revolution.
Establish a routine pregame and halftime protocol with tradition, so everybody knows when the fight song will be sung, and when the band will form a block letter H on the field, etc., etc. Use cheerleaders to engage the crowd in chants and third-down support by holding signs. Get the students involved in establishing game day traditions, perhaps even some intellectual jingles and chants, or Greek chants. Encourage and market community attendance by giving free admission to anyone wearing blue and white.
Some of these ideas can be adapted to other sports, and there are many other ideas too long to list. But, this is a start. When one considers the condition of school spirit and atmosphere on game days, any improvement is a major improvement.