Students seek to bring greater school spirit to Tufts sporting events

Jumbo supporters cheer for the players during Tufts' 4–0 win against Middlebury on Oct. 7, 2017. Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily Archives

Correction: A previous version of this article misattributed a quote from Brigid Gliwa. The quote was misattributed to Brett Rojas, when it was in fact from Gliwa. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily regrets this error.

Tufts’ women’s basketball team has dominated the NESCAC, finishing its first-ever undefeated season with a No. 1 ranking and a record of 24–0. Yet at the team’s Saturday afternoon game against Conn. College on Feb. 8, the stands were filled with more excited parents than Tufts students cheering on the Jumbos.

This scene is not unique; despite its sports teams being among the best that Div. III has to offer, Tufts seems to lack school spirit outside the athletics community. Though not uncommon among its Div. III peers, the athletic realm can appear to be relatively separate from the rest of the Tufts student body. 

Seniors Brett Rojas and Brigid Gliwa are members of Tufts’ Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). Part of SAAC’s mission is to bridge the gap between the athletics community and other students. The committee oversees Fan the Fire,” a group that aims to increase school spirit and build a more connected campus community by sponsoring sports and service events.

Despite the low turnout from students outside of Tufts athletics, Rojas and Gliwa — both of whom have completed the final seasons of their college careers — rarely felt unsupported at their respective soccer or field hockey games. There were always familiar faces in the crowd, though these faces usually belonged to friends, members of other Tufts athletics teams or alumni.

“I always felt like the spirit was great for soccer games,” Rojas, president of the SAAC, said. “People would always come out to the big games, and I know personally I try to get out anytime a team on campus has a big game nearby … And a lot of Tufts alumni end up being in Boston after school, which is nice … I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been disappointed by the school spirit that Tufts has.” 

Gliwa, head of the SAAC community relations committee, agreed with Rojas.

“I think that most of the school spirit and attendance [comes] from the other athletes … And a few people who I’ve been friends with since freshman year have come to all our games,” Gliwa said. “So I think if there’s a connection with someone on the team, you’ll see them more regularly than a regular student. But when [SAAC] hosts events, more people tend to come out and support.”

Sophomore Paul Campo was one such spectator at the Feb. 8 women’s basketball game. He is a football player who ventured to Cousens Gym to “support the team.”

“They support us, so we want to show it back,” Campo said.

Looking around, Campo noted a good turnout, also recognizing the women’s lacrosse and sailing teams. The women’s volleyball team was also at the game managing the snack bar.

Nonetheless, SAAC is committed to expanding this “tight-knit” circle of support beyond just student-athletes.

“Athletes tend to support other athletes in general, because we have a tremendous amount of pride in Tufts athletics overall,” Gliwa said. “But we’re open to trying to include other people in [this] community and hope to gain more support and, in turn, go support them at different things … I think making bonds like that is awesome. It’s so great to unite athletes and non-athletes.”

Rojas recognizes that Tufts has unique qualities that may result in lower levels of school spirit relative to some of the other NESCAC schools.

“Obviously, we’re the biggest [school] by [nearly double]. It’s almost easier to build a larger school spirit among 2,000 students as opposed to [five and a half thousand] because everyone knows each other on campus,” Rojas said. “I would say our average attendance is probably higher, but if a school like Colby is in a huge playoff game, maybe their entire school comes out because everyone on campus knows it’s going on at the time.”

Gliwa added that Tufts’ proximity to Boston might also affect student attendance at sports games.

“I think that a lot of people like to travel into the city on Saturdays and Sundays when big sports games are, unlike a school like Middlebury where you can’t really travel to a big city that often,” she said. “If there’s not anything else to do, the sports games are more of a social outing that you can go to and go hang out with people.”

SAAC is not the only organization aspiring to build up Tufts’ school spirit. The Tufts Pep Band is also working toward the same goal, playing at every home football game, one away football game and at as many spring events as possible.

Juniors Alyssa Robichaud and Christopher Hoerrner, co-presidents of the group, describe their objective as providing “musical entertainment” to “hype people up.”

“I think everyone who makes the effort to show up to the games gets super hyped and is really into it,” Robichaud said. “But there’s not always a super big attendance, even if everybody who’s there always seems to be enjoying themselves.”

Hoerrner said the Pep Band has their own “quirky” cheers, and they sometimes even lead cheers in conjunction with the cheerleaders.

“It’s hard to tell if the students are responding to what we’re doing, but we love to do it regardless,” Hoerrner said.

When asked why they think Tufts’ school spirit might not meet the levels of other schools, Robichaud and Hoerrner speculated a mix of people’s schedules and lack of exposure.

“A lot of times we’ll be sitting in Pep Band and people around us will be like ‘We don’t know what’s happening right now.’ Because if you didn’t go to a football high school, then why would you start going to a game?” Robichaud said. “[Most people] don’t come [to Tufts] to watch sports, and a lot of people are always so, so busy. [Pep Band] gets credit for going to the games, so that really helps.”

Senior Jeb Perera spoke to the busyness that Robichaud described. Although he’s a sports lover and follower of the football, hockey and basketball teams, he averages only about one or two athletics events per year.

“If I’m going out on the weekends, I’m not going to go to night games,” Perera wrote in an electronic message. “And day games are during the time that I try to get my work done.” 

Regardless, both Robichaud and Hoerrner believe that the Tufts community could positively benefit from rallying behind its sports teams.

“It would be fun to have some more stuff to rally together for, especially because we have such amazing teams, which is the wildest fact. I feel like people forget that,” Hoerrner said. “It would also help a lot of other organizations because you could put on extra events or table [at sports games] to get the word out.” 

Gliwa, too, thinks that an increase in school spirit extending beyond the athlete community would create a stronger and more unified student body.

“I think it would lessen the divide [between students]. Sports are something that people can rally around, they make people closer,” Gliwa said. “I think that if more athletes started coming to games, it would create an environment where people didn’t see that divide and realize that we want them there, to come out and support us. And in turn, it’s on us to go and support them in the things they do as well.”