Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

A vision for Whitman fan culture

Three weeks ago, I was at Sherwood Center, having one of the best experiences in my personal history as a sports fan.

I watched as the men’s basketball team completed a storybook comeback: the Missionaries had trailed by as many as 21 points and were down by 14 with under six minutes to play. Then Whitman caught fire, getting several key steals, making three-point shots, using a full-court press, and going on a 17-0 run over the last 5:41 to win by three points. Even sweeter, the victory came against Whitworth, our biggest rival and the (former) number one team in NCAA Division III hoops.

For me, though, the real story wasn’t the night’s win — however awesome the comeback may have been.

It was the fans.

In my four years at Whitman, I have attended plenty of sporting events. I love spectating, analyzing and criticizing, heckling, and most of all supporting friends as they compete. As a varsity athlete myself, I also consider it something of a duty to support other varsity programs. I’ve been to games with 400 or 500, maybe even 600 students in attendance.

But I had never been to a Whitman sporting event anything like this.

Arriving at the start of the second half, I immediately found myself engrossed in the crowd, screaming at Whitworth’s number 23 about his obvious wannabe status, Hanes commercials, and Space Jam. I embraced someone I didn’t know when Brandon Shaw converted a three-point play. I may or may not have yelled that I want to bear Josh Duckworth’s children. And of course, at the end of the game, I rushed the court with about 700 other jubilant Whitties.

In an uproarious Sherwood that night, there were 1,262 people in attendance. Pretty much the only students who weren’t dressed for the “white-out” theme were those that had gone bare-chested and painted their bodies, and the decibel level in the gym was probably unhealthy to the ear. Everyone was screaming, except for those crying tears of joy.

I may be hyperbolizing a smidgen, but I’m trying to make the point that this game was something special, something that we don’t often see at Whitman in terms of support for athletics. Well over half the student body was present, and having a great time. So what is preventing this from happening all the time?

Whitman has long been known as a school that’s ‘not for jocks’ : our athletes are generally great students and we have abstained from that archetypal signifier of meatheadery American football : but that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t have the best athletes and the best fans.

Whitman’s average attendance at a varsity sporting events is low compared to other schools. Take the men’s basketball game on Feb. 12, for example. Whitman beat Willamette that night, tying the school record of seven consecutive wins, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the 1985-86 season. There were 225 fans at that game. The same night in McMinnville, Ore. league bottom-feeder Linfield had 650 fans present in a routine win over Pacific University.

Whitman as an institution has done its part to support athletics at all levels in recent years. There is the men’s basketball team’s success under a new coach with Division I experience, a flock of talented first-years working to revitalize a struggling baseball program, and a combination of ASWC and athletics department dollars have made club volleyball and club tennis a reality in the past three years.

These are but a few examples of Whitman’s recent commitments to excellence in athletics. Now, it’s time for fans to step up and support athletes as well.

I don’t mean this as a complaint or a plea for attention on behalf of campus athletes or the athletics department. Rather, the basketball team’s final home games of the season reminded me how an athletics culture of success and hard work, coupled with a devoted fan culture can be an incredibly fun thing to have in any campus community.

That’s something we can all root for.

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