The notion of school spirit and cheering at university athletic events has become a hot topic recently.
So much that it has brought on attention from national media outlets.
Athletes receiving threats on their Facebook profiles or having to change their phone numbers after receiving calls from disgruntled fans are not uncommon occurrences. Even worse, family members of some college athletes are harassed, and in extreme cases have had to hire personal security guards.
Fortunately at the University of La Verne, student-athletes and their families have not faced such extreme ridicule or dangers experienced by members of more high-profile college teams.
Yet fans of the Leopards have begun to look over their shoulders. Not for flying concessions, but for administrators waiting to pull them from the stands.
ULV students believe that the level of cheering is entertaining and “part of the game,” but some say they have been asked to tone down their cheering by members of the athletics department.
Lauren Reed, a senior communications major who considers herself an enthusiastic supporter for athletics on campus, said she has received a written warning about her behavior when cheering at ULV sporting events.
“I think it’s embarrassing if other schools can cheer louder than us in our own school, in our own territory,” Reed said.
Other schools in the SCIAC conference seem more lenient on their spectators, which causes confusing inconsistencies.
For example, at a women’s volleyball game this year in which the team played at Redlands, members of the Redlands men’s water polo team ran around in their Speedos, drawing no reaction from that school’s administrators.
However, if this situation were to occur at La Verne, many feel the outcome would have been different.
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Campus Life Chip West said that people like to push the limits.
“I think because we are a smaller school it’s a numbers game. One to five people stand out versus a large crowd,” West said.
At ULV, this “Sportsmanship Statement” is read before every home sporting event:
“The National Collegiate Athletics Association and Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference promote good sportsmanship by student-athletes, coaches and spectators. We request your cooperation by supporting the participants and officials in a positive manner. Profanity, racial or sexist comments, inappropriate behavior or other intimidating actions directed at officials, student-athletes, coaches or team representatives will not be tolerated and are grounds for removal from the site of competition. Also, consumption or possession of tobacco products and alcoholic beverages is prohibited. Artificial noisemakers, air horns and electronic amplifiers are not prohibited. We thank you for your cooperation!”
“It is a statement that is a part of the conference bylaws,” Athletic Director Christopher Ragsdale said.
Ragsdale said the sportsmanship statement is read at the beginning of each home contest, but is read again if the crowd seems to be getting out of control or may be doing something that goes against the statement.
These antics would include anything that is deemed inappropriate or intimidating by Ragsdale in which he has the right to make decisions.
“Every situation, you take it at face value,” Ragsdale said.
At athletic events, Ragsdale said there are things that are picked out that are obviously wrong, and the unruly spectators are taking away from the game at hand.
“They are trying to be the focus,” Ragsdale said. “It winds up being our crowd against their crowd.”
Ragsdale said that if any negative cheering or taunting occurs and it involves ULV students, he usually knows who they are and vice versa, and as students, the expectations are already known.
“They understand; they know they have crossed the line,” Ragsdale said.
“I like watching sporting events and cheering for my friends,” Reed said.
“As long as I’m not making racial slurs or offending anyone, I don’t see the problem.”
Reed said she and other La Verne students have been asked to quiet down several times.
As for showing school spirit, Ragsdale said he wants spectators to support the game, but in a positive way.
“If they paint themselves up, I think it’s great,” Ragsdale said.
However, Ragsdale said when the taunting crosses the line and attacks an individual that is when it becomes a problem.
“I think you have to draw a line somewhere,” Ragsdale said.
When it comes to the rest of the conference, there is not a uniform policy that unifies the eight schools included in the SCIAC.
Ragsdale emphasized the importance of educating the campus, especially since it is smaller and how members of the athletics department, including himself, have a responsibility to do so.
“It’s about teachable moments, and the punishment has to fit the crime,” West said. “It’s one thing to yell air-ball and get inside the players head, but it’s another to personally attack a player with intent.”
As for the coaching side of things, women’s volleyball and men’s tennis head coach Don Flora said his team is highly involved in supporting other teams on campus.
“Our girls are taking the positive angle,” Flora said.
“I like the cheering, I think it gets me pumped up,” Jodi Lindsay, a senior volleyball and softball player said.
“There’s a fine line with taunting, but I get so focused on the game I’m not paying attention to it, if it occurs,” Lindsay said. “I think it’s funny, and I use it to push me.”
When it comes to athletic events, especially volleyball matches, Flora said the extra presence of the crowd is huge.
“We only get it for big matches,” Flora said. “It’s a big positive.”
Flora alluded a few years back when the volleyball team faced taunting, during a match which concluded with La Verne winning the National Championship in 2001 even after being overwhelmed with negative comments by thousands of spectators.
“We talk a lot about the use of energy,” Flora said.
Flora said he tells his team to never respond or acknowledge the taunting, but to take that energy and use it for their own benefit.
La Verne has attempted to increase school spirit over the past few years. With the closing of the cheerleading program back in spring 2006 the Campus Activities Board is trying to fill the void.
“This year the Games and Recreation committee added a spirit component,” Barbara Mulligan, the assistant director of student affairs, said. “I feel it’s going well and that students will act positively toward it.”
“Even though we are a smaller school students in general are looking for school spirit,” West said. “We strive to be like the Division-I schools. We see them having fun; we want to have that and be proud of our college too.”
While La Verne students might argue that students cannot have fun at sporting events because of the fear of being reprimanded, La Verne administrators say, they are just doing their job.
Jennifer Gilderman can be reached at email@example.com.
Marilee Lorusso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.