Student support at high school games is one of my favorite things about this job.
When I cover an East-West basketball game or a Croatan-West football game, I can expect to see thriving student sections on both sides.
I can expect to see tie-dye clothes, body paint and kids screaming theirs heads off. They plead with referees, call out opposing players for bad plays and support their friends, win or lose.
The kids that make up a student section are diverse and often players for other teams. When I look in the bleachers, I can pick out the baseball players, the lacrosse kids and the cross country runners. I see the spikers, the netters and the golfers.
The colorful outfits, extravagant signs and screaming heads are all part of the experience, all classic accoutrements to high school games.
But not all the games.
You see, student support is limited, really, to just two sports – football and boys basketball. This isn’t totally unexpected considering that fan attendance overall is strongest for those two sports.
That doesn’t mean the other sports see empty bleachers on game day necessarily. Parents will always be in attendance, no matter how good the game or how bad the team.
But there is virtually no student support at other games. Sure, a crowd of football players once came to see West volleyball’s third-round state playoff win in 2016. Also, oddly enough, West softball always has a dozen or so other athletes who hang around for the first three or four innings of their games.
The instances are few and far between, though. There are certainly few, if any, students in attendance to support sports like lacrosse or soccer. The same can be said for sports such as tennis, golf and cross country, but that presents a different challenge as most of those contests are off campus.
It doesn’t seem right that only two of the 19 distinct sports during the school year get the opportunity to see their friends in the bleachers cheering them on. Peer support is validating and an integral part of being a high school student-athlete.
Sports are not about fairness – games are decided by wins and losses, after all – but high school sports tend to be treated altruistically.
There is an easy fix to this, and it already exists within the framework of prep sports. The key is to keep it in the family, so to speak. You can’t make members of the student body attend a sports game, but coaches certainly have that power over their own players.
In some form or another, the plan is this – each sports season, all teams must attend an on-campus game or match for another sport. So, in lieu of a practice one day, members of the volleyball team can attend a boys soccer game and cheer on their friends. The football team can pay the favor back to the volleyball team, the boys basketball team can attend a wrestling match and the baseball team can go watch lacrosse for two hours.
A single practice is a sacrifice, and there’s a slight imbalance in number of student supporters between what a volleyball roster can provide versus football, but it’s an otherwise easy solution to what feels like a long-ignored issue.
(Send comments or questions to email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)