The first Loyola soccer game I ever attended was a men’s game against St. Louis University at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill., the southwest suburb home of the Chicago Fire. It was back in September 2009, my freshman year. Part of the reason that was the only soccer game I went to that year, men’s or women’s, was that I didn’t know where Loyola Soccer Park at Hoyne Field was. And once I found out the location (thank you, Google Maps), the distance seemed daunting to a freshman who grew up in the country and was just getting his feet wet in the city.
My situation might have been unique given my country-to-city transition, but the reality of not going to a home Loyola soccer game because of the distance from campus isn’t something that only I went through. Since 2009, the men’s team has averaged 333 fans per game over the course of 26 home games through Oct. 14 this year.
During the same timeframe, the women’s team averaged just 216 fans over 31 home games. Both averages come from statistics on the athletic department’s website. Weather, day of the week and time of the year did play a small factor in fluctuations of attendance statistics, but most of the time they were consistent.
Compare those numbers to a school such as Creighton University, another Jesuit institution comparable in size to Loyola, which drew 1,178 fans when Loyola’s men’s soccer team played them on Oct. 2 of this year. Creighton has its soccer field located on campus.
Hoyne Field is located off-campus on the corner of Devon and Hoyne Avenues, and is owned by Loyola. It houses both Loyola Soccer Park and Loyola Softball Park. Lacrosse, Ultimate and rugby clubs also use the facilities.
Loyola is not alone in this problem. Most of Northwestern’s athletic complex is off the main campus, but due to the number of students going to games (thanks to football) their use of a shuttle system is justified. At the very least, Loyola does not have the problem of DePaul, which has home basketball games at the Allstate Arena, out by O’Hare Airport. But the off-campus location still poses problems.
“The location of the field does not encourage students to come to [the] games,” said Tori Spears, a senior who played softball freshman and sophomore year and is currently the Speaker of the USGA Senate. “Student athletes work tirelessly to represent Loyola in a proud manner, but students often don’t see any of the hard work because the location of the field is not closer to campus.”
In an informal Facebook poll taken by the Phoenix from Oct. 8-14 with 50 respondents, 30 percent of students said they didn’t attend any event at Hoyne Field because of the distance. According to Google Maps, the distance from Norville Intercollegiate Athletic Center to Hoyne Field is 1.4 miles. That translates into roughly a 30-minute walk for the 12 percent who marked that as their primary way to get to the fields. This walk might not seem bad during early September or late April/May, but at night and on chilly or rainy days, that walk seems more daunting.
Other options students could use include the 155 bus (44 percent), driving by car (6 percent) or other modes (8 percent).
The 155 is the preferred method of transportation for the women’s soccer team, according to junior midfielder Tricia Stonebraker. Stonebraker said it takes about 10 minutes to get to Hoyne on the bus, give or take a few minutes for traffic or construction. Construction comes into play now, since the 155 is running only as far west on Devon as Ridge Avenue before detouring due to sewer work that is scheduled to end on Nov. 30, according to the CTA’s website. However, for the next month, that eliminates the only convenient public transit option to Hoyne.
Cars are the best option for athletes and fans when they are available, but not many students at Loyola own cars. Most of the athletic department travels to games via cars, and the softball team usually does too, especially with the gear they have to bring to games. Spears said that when she played, she had a car and was able to bring teammates and equipment to the field with her, a situation that worked most of the time for both games and practices.
“Although most days were manageable, there were definitely days where we [had] girls packed into cars that exceeded the proper limit of passengers in the car at one time,” Spears said.
Other teams use their legs to get there, running to add some conditioning to practice. Men’s soccer does this, as well as men’s club rugby. However, when rugby has home games, they take public transit, according to senior rugby president David Moreira.
“We carry our water, jerseys and all other equipment on the CTA the morning of the game,” Moreira said.
Another issue club teams that use Hoyne Field encounter is how to get back to campus later in the evening. The teams that ran to practice won’t run back and the ones that took the 155 bus have to deal with a reduced route schedule. Often, they will take 8-Ride, but the vans cannot fit all the players at once. This leads to stragglers who have to wait on the last van, waiting up to 30 minutes at night to get back to Loyola.
It’s not an ideal set-up for fans or players, but there’s little Loyola can do. There could be a shuttle bus run to Hoyne, similar to those that run from Lake Shore to Water Tower Campus and ones that go out to the Medical Center in Maywood. Because the buses are property of Free Enterprise, a third party contracted by Loyola, the price to add the trips to Hoyne would be too much, according to sophomore USGA senator Vinny Torossy.
Torossy, chair of USGA’s Transportation and Facilities Committee, said that such a proposal requires consideration of where the money would come from.
“Teams always find a way to make [traveling to Hoyne] work,” said Athletic Director Dr. M. Grace Calhoun. “But yes [it is an issue] for fans. However, when looking at it, the only thing we have the ability to control [regarding low student attendance] is the buses. And those might be upwards of $1,000 per bus. Certainly an expense.”
“It’s not impossible,” Torossey said of running a shuttle bus to Hoyne for games, “but right now it’s improbable. It can and should be looked into, but you would have to gauge support and estimate how many students would use it.”
That estimation of student turnout is part of the problem the athletic department has when considering using shuttles to transport students to home contests. It’s hard to tell how many students will actually use the shuttle to go to the game, potentially making the move worthless.
Something should be done to address the situation for varsity and club athletes and fans, but as of now, there are very few solutions. It’s the curse of being an urban campus that there is no room closer to campus to build softball and soccer fields, too.
In the future, the school, athletes and students could only benefit by more attention paid to this issue. As Calhoun says, “Any idea is worth looking into.”
by Brendan Bond