The Webster University men’s basketball team won the regular season title of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and had the advantage of hosting the postseason tournament.
At least it was supposed to be an advantage.
In terms of preparation before the game, not traveling and being in a regular routine, it was an advantage for Webster. During the game, that was all thrown out the window as the MacMurray College Higlanders upset our Gorloks 68-62 on Feb. 23.
Though the game was played in Grant Gymnasium, it felt as if it was played at MacMurray. Webster men’s basketball coach Chris Bunch even said in a Feb. 27 interview with The Journal, “It’s like we were almost playing a road game.”
The MacMurray fans traveled the 93 miles and nearly two hours from Jacksonville, Ill., to cheer on their team, while Webster couldn’t even get students living 500 feet away to attend the game.
The MacMurray fans took up a quarter of the seating in Grant Gymnasium and were on their feet behind the MacMurray bench the entire game. At times, especially when Webster was up double digits, the MacMurray fans weren’t as loud, but all it took was a couple 3-pointers and an alley-oop dunk to ignite the crowd.
MacMurray’s fans were loud and drowned out the Webster fans, which certainly helped the Highlanders sustain their second-half run. MacMurray’s fans chanted with enthusiasm and school spirit, and the Webster fans countered with half-hearted chants.
Another team’s fans should never out-cheer Webster’s fans in Grant Gymnasium.
Webster’s student enrollment for the Webster Groves campus is about 2,500 with nearly 700 students living on campus. MacMurray’s entire student body is around 550 students.
Webster was out-cheered by a school that has roughly 150 less students attending the school than Webster has living on its campus.
While the attendance at basketball games this year didn’t reach its potential, I have to give a lot of credit to the team’s fellow athletes and athletic coaches at Webster. Players on a variety of Webster athletic teams would come to cheer on their fellow Gorloks, and nearly every Webster head coach could be spotted in the stands.
Aside from the athletes and coaches, a typical Webster crowd would consist of cheerleaders, Webster’s dance team, a few casual fans and parents, and friends of players. Hardly anyone unrelated to the team in some way attends the game. I blame it on the lack of promotion.
For Webster’s last game of the season, there were signs on campus promoting “Rivalry Week,” which was the game against Fontbonne University at Webster on Feb. 21. I understand the promotion for the women’s game. It was their senior night and they were playing the third place team in the SLIAC.
Such promotion for the men’s game was almost unnecessary. The men didn’t have a senior night, given they had no seniors on the team, and the game would have very little impact on the postseason. Webster had already locked up the No. 1 seed and was playing a Fontbonne team with a 4-19 overall record and a 3-12 SLIAC record. In the past three years, Webster and Fontbonne have been far from rivals when it comes to men’s basketball.
The same crowd that came out for the Fontbonne games should have attended the game against MacMurray two nights later. This game actually mattered to the Gorloks. It was win or go home.
I come from a high school that had amazing school spirit and attendance at sporting events, so I may expect the same from my college. The way the MacMurray fans cheered was how we cheered at every game. The lack of attention from the students towards the Webster athletic teams baffles me.
Students attend events such as fashion shows and participate in the overhyped Humans vs. Zombies, but sporting events are viewed similarly to an 8 a.m. class where the teacher doesn’t take attendance.
I’m not saying students should go to sports games, nor am I scolding those who don’t go. I’m saying important sporting events, like SLIAC tournament games, should be promoted to the extent the Fontbonne games were. Maybe then Webster fans wouldn’t be embarrassed by the opposing teams’ fans.
All the storied programs in men’s Division I college basketball, such as Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina, make it tough for their opponents to play at their home stadium. The fans are relentless.
Webster fields a competitive team year after year, so it’s already tough for opponents to win at Grant Gymnasium. Add a relentless crowd to the mix and it becomes even more challenging.
Until the promotion of sporting events is increased and students become more aware and interested, the attendance at Webster games will continue to hover around its current rate.
For the faithful fans attending spring sporting events that are not even on campus (baseball plays at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Ill.; softball plays at Blackburn Park up the street; golf plays at Sunset Country Club; and tennis home games take place at the Webster Groves Tennis Center at the corner of Elm Avenue and Interstate 44) and those waiting for Grant Gymnasium to open again for volleyball in the fall and for basketball in the winter, continue to show your support.
Only this time around, let’s make up for the lack of students attending by standing up and making some noise.