Encouraging student engagement with campus athletics


Last year, Athletic Director Samantha Huge was introduced to Williamsburg at the monthly Business Roundtable Luncheon. A classmate of mine asked Huge a question that was on my mind: “What will increase student participation at Tribe athletic events?” Huge mentioned that because of students’ abilities to multi-task, she planned to investigate increasing bandwidth at our athletic venues.

“Improved Wi-Fi in the Kaplan [Arena] is a priority for us and we are currently looking at a wide array of operational areas and fan amenities, not only in Kaplan Arena, but in all of our venues. We want to continue to improve the game day atmosphere for our alumni, fans and students,” Huge said, following up from last week.

Recently, I asked friends about student attendance at sporting events on campus, which has historically been lackluster at the College of William and Mary. To obtain a historical perspective, I talked with former athlete and coach Joe Agee ’52. The good news is that Agee sees more student participation now than when he was coaching. Having winning teams was mentioned by many as a significant factor.

Avid Tribe supporter Jim Hernandez observed that “Tribe Pride” plays a part in student attendance. He noted that the athletes play their hearts out for the College and their fellow students. Hernandez suggested that each William and Mary class might establish a class goal such as packing Kaplan in order to bolster student engagement.

One senior at the College recently discussed student participation with his father. They suggested that the more opportunities students have to get to know the athletes, the more apt they are to invest their time supporting them. This certainly has been true when athletes connect with alumni at annual events such as the Tribe Baseball First Pitch Dinner and the local alumni chapter dinner with the men’s and women’s basketball teams, and increased opportunities for athletes to mix with other students during a meal or service project should be encouraged.

The Feb. 10 Gold Rush Game at Kaplan Arena was a testament to the important role promotions play in student attendance. In addition to free t-shirts, food and raffles, students cheered on our winning basketball team and a surfing demonstration by the Griffin; these promotions were very effective in garnering attendance.

Students at the College definitely excel at academics. Would attending athletic events provide a more balanced college experience, which might deliver long-term advantages? It is interesting that the student athletes may offer some of the best examples of how to master time management skills related to academics. This is especially evident with law and MBA students on the basketball team. Look at the baseball players who must balance academics with five games a week plus practice!

Being able to leverage the experience and expertise of alumni offers students the potential to explore many future opportunities. Great networking opportunities are offered by the William and Mary Washington Center through its executive director, Adam Anthony.

“The advice we give students in terms of engaging with alums is this — you’re just looking for common ground to connect with the person with whom you’re talking. Tribe sports are a great way to do that; it’s something every alum shares and many respond to. We have so much to be proud of about our sports programs. They are run the right way and our students are true student athletes. Being conversant in how the men’s basketball team or women’s soccer team, etc. is doing is just a part of showing your Tribe pride. Following the teams and going to the games are part of that too,” Anthony said.

Several baseball players noted that low student attendance is related to the lack of transportation to Plumeri Field. This is also a challenge for student attendance at lacrosse and soccer games at Albert-Daly Field. The athletic department and Department of Transportation have tried various programs (with mixed results) to address this. My suggestion is to take a page from Northern Virginia grassroots commuter protocol. Commuters without vehicles line up outside shopping centers and those with vehicles drive up and offer them a ride into Washington, D.C.

I believe a student-run “Tribe Pride line” at Kaplan Arena that encourages students, faculty and alumni driving to these games to swing by and pick up students on the way would be very effective. With the predicted rise in popularity of Ultimate Frisbee as incoming College president Katherine Rowe takes office, the student body should ask coach Rowe and the Griffin to demonstrate Ultimate Frisbee for baseball fans before a game; I feel confident that would be quite the draw.

Email Ted Maslin MBA ’80 at tedmaslin@msn.com.


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