That’s hype: What can be done to increase support for sports

March 12, 2019 — by Allison Hartley

The tightly packed middle section of the gym bleachers jeered when the referees called a foul against the boys’ Del Mar basketball team on Feb. 16, and fans cheered with zeal when they scored. Across the steps in the home section, a few families of Saratoga players would scowl at the Del Mar families, and the JV boys’ basketball team and another handful of up to 10 spectators would shout praise at the home team.

This particular game was the first in CCS, timed the Friday before February break and was a home game that directly followed the girls’ win in their CCS game. All in all, it seemed like the stands should have been full.

But as I filed into the section rightmost section with the Saratoga fans during the first quarter, I had the choice of three or four completely clear rows. Once I took a place on the bleachers with my friend, the rows remained vacant, and nobody sat alongside us for the remainder of the game.

Quad nights, when all four basketball teams play back-to-back, usually garner a decent gathering of 100-200 fans, and football games that usually attract several hundred, especially marquee matchups like games against Los Gatos or Homecoming contests. Even so, most sports generally attract the same group of consistently supporting parents, a few spirited staff members and perhaps the counterpart JV or girls’/boys’ players in the stands. Dates and times aren’t widely circulated, save for social media videos advertising a few senior nights.

This lack of support hasn’t always been the case here.

2005 alumnus Danny Wallace, now the coach of the varsity girls’ basketball team, remembers a time when the home bleachers flooded with an average 300 to 400 fans for his basketball games.

Wallace also recalls SHS fans filling up the football stands even at away games like at Los Gatos.

Comparing the number of fans from more than a decade ago to now surely suggests that the presence of sports on campus and in the community has declined — or the attention has shifted elsewhere.

Wallace attributes the decreased interest in supporting sports to students’ additional growing commitments in school and extracurriculars and even a changing mindset for social interaction.

“As a coach now, I see kids all the time that are stressed out of their minds; they don’t have time and they can’t commit to things,” Wallace said. “When I went to SHS, kids were working hard, kids were a little stressed, but not at the extent that they couldn’t make it to events.”

Academic commitments notwithstanding, there is no doubt that students are more engaged with technology, especially social media and gaming, than they were in 2005.

Students’ satisfaction for interacting with technology may eliminate the desire to attend spirit-entertainment at the school like rallies and sporting events, Wallace said.

“Kids using technology are more sheltered because they want to be in their bubble with technology rather than pushing boundaries and wanting to see these events,” Wallace said. “Our school used to be great because everyone had their groups of friends, and they wanted to come together and have fun.”

Although the accessibility of technology might have filled the entertainment void left by sports, students’ attention might have already naturally shifted away from school sports.

Junior football player George Bian believes that support for football games parallels the team’s success. This notion motivates the team to improve and work harder to attract fans, and when there are more fans at games, the team feeds off the energy and plays better in response.

“If we work hard as a team and put on a show, then the community will begin to notice and the stands will begin to fill up on Friday nights,” Bian said. “It all just depends on how badly we want success.”

While the key to piquing interest in sports will not be a single solution, teams, even those sports that are traditionally not as popular with spectators, can increase their presence on campus, if they want to.

As Bian said, success will often make a name for a team — but not if nobody knows about that team’s stellar record.

To increase students awareness, players should advertise highlights and game schedules on social media and around campus and propagate their own excitement for their sport. If a friend asks another friend to support their game, it’s more difficult to decline.

To encourage student support, many teachers even offer extra credit for attending school sporting events, but while this solution may be popular with students who are happy with the grade boost, this only treats the symptoms of a school culture with little preference to sports.

Although students might attend a game, maybe yell a few hurrahs, and have a fun time, it’s still difficult to regularly overcome the deterring door fee and the common effect of a tightly packed after-school schedule.

Even so, there are some dedicated students and a consistent number of spirited parents who regularly attend sporting events and represent SHS pride in sports, and players feed off of their energy and become more engaged in performing well at the game.

“As a student-athlete, I’m extremely grateful for the positive support that our sports teams receive from our community,” Bian said.

Junior Simrita Advani said she usually attends a couple of basketball, softball, volleyball and football games per season with two or three friends to support her friends who play.

“Watching school sports helps create a positive atmosphere for the players as when there are more people watching, players try harder and get more hyped up, and it helps [increase] school spirit,” Advani said.

The school’s culture can only stand to benefit from more support for its sports — a more spirited school is usually a friendlier, happier school, and athletes will appreciate other students making time to show up and care.

After all, students are more likely to remember rooting on epic victories against schools like Los Gatos and Palo Alto than studying for a chemistry quiz or watching yet another recommended video on YouTube.

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