Hoyas need to huddle: Bringing back a culture of sports to the Hilltop

October 7, 2023

Design by Thanasis Basiakos

At the University of Arkansas, the electricity of rumbling bleachers rattles your heart as you look out at a sea of red, thousands of fingers waving intensely in the air. The deafening roar of 76,000 people crying out Woo Pig Sooie,” the cheer for the 50 student athletes rushing onto the field. 

Across the nation, college sports do more than unite students during games; entire university communities and identities are formed around these sports. For example, the influence of sports at Indiana University (IU) poses the question: which came first, the IU Hoosiers, or the hoosier demonym referring to Indiana state residents? Sports traditions are part of the fabric of these universities, uniting students, alumni, and fans. 

If college games can be so sensational, then where are all the students at Georgetown’s?

With the exception of some men’s soccer games, you would be hard-pressed to find a thriving student section here on the Hilltop, despite the university’s historic successes and national sports identity. For example, the average stadium attendance for a men’s home basketball game last season was 5,442—just a quarter of Capital One Arena’s maximum capacity. In comparison, the average attendance at away games was 11,620. For women’s soccer, an average of 239 fans attended home games, only 15 percent of Shaw Field’s capacity, while away games had an average attendance of 754 fans, although many of the games were at larger stadiums. 

Clearly, Georgetown’s student section isn’t showing up, and coaches and players have been taking note. Some, like Dave Nolan, the women’s head soccer coach of 20 years, blame it on Georgetown’s focus on academics.

“I think the first thing is, it’s a school full of students, more so than a school full of sports fans. So, I feel that probably there’s not enough students at Georgetown who are genuinely interested in sports to begin with,” Nolan said in an interview with the Voice

However, other academically rigorous schools with a rich history of sports, like Duke and Notre Dame, are consistently ranked high in “best student section,” according to Bleacher Report. While Georgetown created a sports passion powerhouse during its championship runs of the 1980s, its current turnout is lackluster at best. What Georgetown needs is a symphony of community-building efforts by the athletics department, student organizations, and student athletes, according to members of these groups.

The athletics department plays an important role in engaging students and fostering their support for Georgetown sports teams, including through giveaways and advertising games to the student body. But to Nolan, these resources are often reserved for the more popular sports.

“Free t-shirts, free fanny packs, free whatever it is. You know, you go to a basketball game, they’re firing t-shirts into the stands. I wish we had the resources to do a little bit more for our [other] sports besides basketball,” Nolan said.

John Corwin, the assistant athletic director of marketing, hopes to change that. Despite only having been on the Hilltop since August 2023, he has developed a new mantra for the athletics department: “Be visible.” To Corwin, visibility is all about meeting students where they are. First, that means building awareness about games by advertising in spaces that are easily accessible to students. Then, it’s all about convincing them to attend and support the Hoyas. 

The department has been implementing a similar sports advertising approach on campus. During fall move-in weekend, athletics took time to hand out t-shirts to new students across campus. Flyers for upcoming games have begun popping up on tables in the Leavey Center. Corwin suggested that posters may begin popping up too, informing students of teams’ season schedules to drive turnout. These are just the first steps, however. The department’s end goal is to build tradition. 

Prior to Georgetown, Corwin worked in a similar role at University of California, Berkeley, where tradition-building was as much a part of his job as it is now.

“Every Thursday, we would do nighttime rallies, where we would go through all the residence halls with about 20 band members, play different Cal fight songs, and people would come out of their [dorms] and come down and participate. We did that every single home football game and that’s been a tradition that’s been kept for years and years,” Corwin said of his favorite Berkeley tradition.

Corwin hopes to one day bring the same level of student enthusiasm and cheer from Berkeley to Georgetown. Two of Corwin’s current proposals include boosting the game day atmosphere for students and involving more students in game production.

First, he recognizes the importance of generating hype before a game, especially en route to matches. “Can we get some of our buses to have lights on them, music on them, things like that, where it’s an engaging process?” Corwin said. He believes this will help make game days a can’t-miss experience. 

He also wants students to be the ones engaging fans during games. “What I’m looking to do for game days is get, like, a student-on-court emcee,” Corwin said. “We’re looking for more of that fan engagement, NBA-type environment.”

“It just adds to it, right? Building those traditions, I think, coming from a student, again, that energy is going to just change everything,” he said.

Corwin does recognize the limitations of the athletics department in creating lasting change to student culture. “There’s only so much we can do in marketing in regards to pushing initiatives or traditions, like trying to create them ourselves. The ones that have stuck, with like “Enter Sandman” at Virginia Tech, Wisconsin’s “Jump Around,” those are all organic,” Corwin said.

In order to develop more “organic” traditions, he hopes to develop stronger relationships with student organizations like Hoya Blue and Pep Band, often the face of the student cheer sections at home and away games.

Hoya Blue serves a crucial role in Georgetown’s student-fan experience. While most students will recognize them for cheering at various Georgetown matches, their operations also include holding watch parties for away games and making signs to display at matches.

Hoya Blue has already built a few traditions within their club that promote a lighthearted atmosphere around athletics, although these traditions are largely limited to the club rather than the entire student body. Those who attend a Hoya Blue meeting for the first time may be shocked when the club yells the time, followed by an emphatic “AND ’CUSE STILL SUCKS,” at the end of each meeting. President Quentin Fidance (SFS ’24) also mentioned the “stalk doc,” a sheet of paper with information pulled from the internet about an opposing player meant for students to “get in their head.”

However, Fidance recognizes that those without friends in Hoya Blue can be too intimidated to join the space, admitting himself that he experienced some social barriers when he first joined the club. COVID-19 also exacerbated the lack of student support.

“There was a little bit of a social divide—people had lost a lot of social skills during the pandemic, but there were a lot of set friends groups within the club,” Fidance wrote in a text message to the Voice. However, he believes that the club is now doing a better job of being open to all. 

Nolan recognizes and appreciates the role Hoya Blue plays in garnering more support at Hoya sporting events. 

“I think Hoya Blue do a job that’s not an easy task for them,” he said. “I know they do their best. I remember when we went to North Carolina in 2018 for the Final Four—we had a fantastic bunch of students who came down to support us for that.” 

Pep Band is another student organization with a major presence at games. The band most often plays at home football and basketball games, but they will also play at a few men’s soccer games this fall. 

“I love that about Pep Band—no matter what, we’re always there, we’re always going to cheer on the team,” Jenna Thomas (CAS ’24), one of the conductors of the Georgetown Pep Band, said. When not playing their instruments, the band can also be seen starting chants among the students at the games, another way to improve the fan experience. Thomas mentioned that Pep Band has been working to use their social media presence as a way to build the Georgetown fanbase.

Student athletes also have a growing role in promoting games and attracting fans on social media. It allows student athletes to showcase their personalities and connect with the larger student body on a more individual level. 

“It almost makes them more approachable, makes it more fun for the students because they feel like they can have some type of relationship, even through a screen. It’s just fun to watch,” Thomas said. 

Nevertheless, Nolan pointed out that social media is most effective at reaching students who are already Georgetown sports fans. Students who are simply not as interested in sports are unlikely to search for and find social media content from Georgetown athletics or athletes.

“[For] kids today, social media is the easiest way to reach them, but it’s only the easiest way to reach them if they’re already aware of you and they’re already following you. If you have a student at Georgetown who doesn’t follow women’s soccer on Instagram or Twitter, they’re not going to be any wiser. And I sometimes feel that we forget that,” Nolan said.

Instead, Nolan highlighted a role that the athletics department, Hoya Blue, and Pep Band can all fill: collaborate and synergize to increase awareness of the department’s activities on the main Georgetown University account to get new eyes on underappreciated sports. Encouraging followers to engage with athletics posts can become a positive feedback loop that would boost Georgetown’s turnout at games, according to Thomas. 

“I just think there needs to be some type of culture shift, which I do think is coming with the coaching turnaround for basketball,” Thomas said. “They’ve been advertising the football games even more. I walked into Leavey the other day and I saw all the little printouts they had. I thought that was pretty cool, and I think there was a pretty good turnout that last game.”

Looking ahead, Thomas is hopeful that a new era of Georgetown sports is beginning. A hot start from Georgetown football and a new coach for the basketball team could be signs that Georgetown sports culture is about to change for the better. Last season, frustration with Georgetown basketball peaked as fans became extremely unhappy with former coach Patrick Ewing and the team’s abysmal performance.

However, the Ed Cooley era is now well underway on the Hilltop, and it’s clear that students are excited about the new hire. Cooley and his staff have made a concerted effort to change the sports culture on the Hilltop and engage more with students, looking to attract more students to Georgetown basketball games.

“I want to meet every student. I’m going to ask them to give us a chance. Even if we struggle early, hang in there with us … we want passion and energy, but we need every student,” Cooley said in his introductory press conference in March.

“I promise you, people are going to want to wear this ‘G’ more than anything they have wanted to wear in their life,” he added.

“Already, there’s quite a bit of change. We played at the New Student Orientation closing ceremony, and [Cooley] was just like chatting with us, coming around giving everybody fist bumps, asking how are you, introducing himself, which is just so nice and such a change,” Thomas said. 

But Corwin believes that Hoyas can and will create a strong sense of community. 

“If our students get involved, we build this culture … that’s gonna go a long way for the experience of everyone,” Corwin said. “One thing we can all circle back to is we’re all Hoyas, we’re all a part of this family.

Bradshaw Cate
Halftime Sports Editor. From Fayetteville, Arkansas (if you can't tell from my articles). Go hogs and hoya saxa!

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