Crowds building for Gators sports

A glimmer of light reflected off of a snowy white volleyball as it floated, seemingly suspended in midair as if time had come to a halt. Gators hitter Jaclyn Clark leapt off the floor and smashed the ball down with authority between a scattered web of California State University, East Bay defenders. The announcer confirmed the point and the crowd erupted, howling with approval and sending echoes of cheers and high-fives bouncing off the walls of the Gymnasium.

The 340 people in attendance Sept. 9 marked the largest crowd the Gators have seen all season.

“Everyday I meet people who are surprised to find out we have teams,” Clark said.

Attendance at SF State’s volleyball and soccer games has shown some improvement this year, in comparison to last year, according to the SF State athletics website.

In 2014, the Gators’ average turnout was 147 people per game for men’s soccer, 141 for women’s soccer and 188 for volleyball, according to the SF State athletics website. This year, the Gators are averaging 168, 148 and 242 for those sports, respectively.

Despite the increase, second-year Director of Athletics Charles Guthrie said he sees room for improvement.

“Since day one, my goal has been to get the student body out to games,” Guthrie said.

The attendance numbers are climbing, but aside from volleyball, the school still ranks near the bottom of the California Collegiate Athletic Association. Out of 13 teams, the Gators rank 8th in average crowd size for men’s soccer, 9th for women’s soccer and 6th for volleyball, despite having the largest student body of all CCAA schools, according to data compiled from CCAA school websites.

Guthrie attributes the large spike in volleyball turnout to an aggressive promotional campaign on campus, online and in the community.

Guthrie said that another reason volleyball has seen a large growth in fan appearance, as opposed to soccer, is because it’s easier to add amenities to an indoor venue.

“Our indoor sports are easier to manage, so we’ve added concessions,” Guthrie said. “When you walk in you smell popcorn going, and I think students are coming back. So we’re getting repeat offenders now, because they’re feeling like this is a good spot to be in.”

Guthrie said in order to bring more of the public out to soccer games, lights need to be installed at Cox Stadium to allow for late-night games.

“We’ve been working very hard on potential donors,” Guthrie said. “Our goal is to put lights at Cox Stadium. If we put lights up, it changes the game for us tremendously. We play at 12:30 and 2:30, and the majority of people are going to class. No one’s going to leave work to come over here, so it handicaps us.”

Having a big crowd is something that men’s soccer midfielder Robert Kelly said can be a huge boost for the team.

“Honestly, having the fan base helps you so much, because you get extra energy when everyone is cheering you on,” Kelly said. “It gives you an extra boost to persevere and win.”

Kelly was a transfer from University of Tulsa, a Division I school, where he said the stands were always packed with rabid, cheering fans.

Guthrie said his goal is to bring that same Division I atmosphere to SF State’s athletics department, even though it’s a Division II program.

“When you come to our games now, it’s an experience,” Guthrie said. “My first day in the door I felt like I wasn’t even at a high-end high school game.”

Volleyball player Taylor Brownlee said she can sense the excitement of the crowd during intense matches.

“When I see the fans out there, it amplifies everything,” Brownlee said. “We feed off their energy even when we are physically exhausted.”

President Leslie E. Wong said that the school should place more importance on its athletic programs.

“I have always felt that if a university is a home, then athletics are the ‘front door’ to that home,” Wong said via email. “Our teams provide a wonderful opportunity to showcase the energy and pride on our campus and invite the rest of the community, including our alumni, to come in and see the exciting things happening in the rest of the house.”

Guthrie said it’s his main objective to try to develop pride in SF State athletics.

“When you guys graduate, we want you, when you hear the Gator fight song, to get excited and say ‘Yeah, I went to State!,'” Guthrie said.

Storymap by Tyler Lehman and David Curl

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