August 13, 2020

The Sporting Insider: ‘Fan-demonium’

When the Webster University women’s basketball team opened its regular season on Nov. 16, 593 fans packed the stands at Grant Gymnasium to watch the Gorloks beat Earlham College (Ind.) 58-50, according to official attendance figures.

Thirteen days earlier, 687 fans lined the metal bleachers at St. Louis Soccer Park to watch the Webster men’s soccer team defeat Westminster College (Mo.) 2-0 in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship.

The Sporting Insider is a biweekly column by Journal copy chief & layout editor Josh Sellmeyer..

And the night before that, 394 blue-and-gold-clad fans gathered at Soccer Park to watch the Webster women’s soccer team claim the SLIAC tournament title with a 1-0 victory over Greenville College (Ill.).

These three attendance figures — 593, 687 and 394 — may not jump off the page. They’re insignificant when compared to, say, the average attendance of a 2012 St. Louis Cardinals baseball game (40,272 people). But that’s apples and oranges.

These three attendance figures, believe it or not, are record-breaking totals. The men’s and women’s soccer squads didn’t have this many people attend one of their home games in the past 10 years.

And because home attendance figures for the two soccer teams weren’t recorded by Webster prior to 2003, the two SLIAC tournament championship games very well could be the highest-attended home contests ever for both programs.

Just about the same goes for the women’s basketball program. In 2005, approximately 550 fans attended a game against Maryville University (Mo.) at Grant Gymnasium. That’s as close as the Gorlok faithful have gotten in the past 10 years to matching the 593 fans who attended this year’s season opener.

Determining attendance figures without the aid of turnstiles or tickets — neither of which Webster utilizes on a game-to-game basis — is an inexact science. So the totals calculated this year and throughout Webster athletics history aren’t perfectly precise.

But you get the point I’m trying to make. This past month, people are turning out like never before to watch Webster sports teams compete. When I played in the SLIAC men’s soccer championship and watched the SLIAC women’s soccer championship as well as the women’s basketball season opener, I felt a sense of pride.

For one of the rare times in my four-year collegiate career, I felt like the fans attending the games — who were both strong in numbers and energy — truly cared about the student athletes competing on the pitch and hardwood. It was fun playing in front of the boisterous fans, but it was also fun just being a spectator in that atmosphere.

The record-breaking numbers should be partially attributed to a new initiative introduced by Tom Hart, director of athletics. This year, all Webster student athletes are encouraged to attend one select home event for each Gorlok team. The initiative is a sound idea and has had a noticeable effect on home attendance (and not just for the games student athletes are supposed to attend).

Webster’s newest student cheering section, the Bricksquad, also deserves some credit. The group, which is currently seeking Student Government Association funding, was formed by students in late October and has already made its mark.

Previous Webster student cheering groups like TrueBlue and Woo Crew (yes, Woo Crew) have slowly but surely fallen by the wayside. Whether or not the Bricksquad will have staying power remains to be seen.

But for now, it’s just nice to see students and student athletes showing some gusto at sporting events. Webster isn’t known as a big-time sports school, and that may never be the case. But clearly, as far as athletic attendance is concerned, Webster has recently made some strong strides.

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