The only image more deflating than a small percentage of students wearing university gear at a school sporting event is a completely empty sports arena. Both display a student population that lacks strong school spirit and unity.
Unfortunately, these two issues are quite prevalent on Loyola’s campus, and it has raised the concern of the PHOENIX Editorial Board.
For most, the primary reason to attend college is to pursue either a more encompassing and rich education or a degree in the specific field one wants to begin a career. But there is more to college than attending classes and doing homework.
Part of what makes people’s college years the best of their lives is the vibrant atmosphere of a school with an actively involved and proud community. That type of community is usually closely tied to sports.
“The university has realized that athletics is the perfect tool for creating spirit and for creating campus community,” said Pat Schultz, the associate athletic director in charge of event operations, promotions and equipment.
After realizing this, Loyola has taken steps to increase the quality of athletics on campus. Joseph J. Gentile Arena was redesigned to look more like a college-level gymnasium. Norville Athletic Center was built to give student-athletes better locker rooms and workout facilities. The Ramblers moved from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley Conference to play against better, more recognizable competition and draw in higher quality high school recruits.
But the students still don’t show up. Not on a consistent basis, at least.
Zane Carmean, a former board member of the official Loyola student section known as the Rambler Rowdies, believes it is a culture issue.
“It’s just cool for sports to not be cool,” Carmean said.
When freshmen go to their first Loyola game and see the student section half empty, with the few who are in attendance sitting down, they will (not surprisingly) think twice before attending another game.
“The upperclassmen sit there at games never standing, never moving,” said Nicholas Paul, another former board member of the Rambler Rowdies. “So there is no excitement at games for freshmen to experience anything that would be tradition.”
Many students on campus stop attending sports events and wearing Loyola clothing after their freshman year because they see upperclassmen doing the same.
Around 100 to 150 people sign up to be in the Rowdies each year, but by the time they’re sophomores, more than half stop showing up, according to Paul.
To be fair, there are other underlying issues that have contributed to lack of school spirit at Loyola.
A major contributor is that the school’s largest sport has not been successful for almost 30 years.
“The fact that our men’s basketball team hasn’t been to an NCAA tournament since 1985 hurts us,” Schultz said. “Everyone loves a winner. Everyone follows a winner.”
Not only have the Ramblers not been to March Madness in three decades, they’ve been plain awful during that time period. Since 1985, Loyola fielded just five teams that finished with a winning record, most recently during the 2010-2011 season.
Another large part of the problem is that Loyola has been a commuter school for much of its history until recently.
“You didn’t really get behind your teams because you came here, you went to school and you went home,” Schultz said. “You had your own life outside of the campus community.”
With the basketball team featuring young and exciting talent headlined by Milton Doyle, Jeff White and Christian Thomas, and the university adding new dorms such as San Francisco and de Nobili, these concerns no longer seem to be as omnipresent.
But those seats are still empty, so let’s continue down the path to a stronger, proud school community. The Phoenix Editorial Board suggests two things that can speed up the process.
One, the Athletic Department should consider doing more to market sporting events. A couple small signs outside of Norville and in the Damen Student Center and an occasional email aren’t sufficient.
There are plans in development, according to Schultz, but it’s about time they come to fruition.
The Athletic Department is looking to put up digital signage in the hallway that connects Norville to Damen, which is “a high traffic area.” They would also like to have a stronger advertising presence on social media. And they will encourage coaches to be more interactive with students by having them email or text students on game day.
Perhaps the most intriguing idea involves giving Loyola flags to local businesses in Rogers Park. On game day, the business puts the flag up to notify students.
That is the type of idea that can cultivate tradition and school spirit.
Ideas are all well and good, but we need to see them put into action. For too long, athletics have been all but invisible.
Second, students need to take initiative and change the culture themselves. Attend a basketball game or soccer match, even if you aren’t interested in sports. Wear a Loyola sweatshirt or beanie, even if you usually dress fancier than that.
Be proud you go to Loyola, even if it isn’t “cool” to do so.
A proud student body is all the spirit a school really needs.