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COLUMN: Amateur Sports Needs Students To Survive

If prep sports get more serious every year, then why are the crowds shrinking?

Not that long ago we saw the Long Beach Poly and Lakewood football game almost sell out Veterans Memorial Stadium. We didn’t see a football sellout this season. Not even close.

It wasn’t that long ago we saw the Walter Pyramid sell out for a Long Beach State men’s basketball Homecoming game. Not even 4,000 showed up this year.

I could list the reasons why fewer people are attending live events, and there are many here in busy Southern California. Instead, I want to talk about bucking this trend, and how the students of Long Beach have the power to reinvigorate local sports crowds.

There wasn’t a student section to sit in at Walter Pyramid when I got to Long Beach State, but the Union Weekly organized a group that got pretty big by the time we drove to Ohio for the NCAA Tournament.

Those incredible memories made it all the more difficult for me to see a quiet LBSU student section sit on their hands through the Homecoming win earlier this month. They literally sat through the entire game. I don’t know if that’s a generational thing, but I do know that sports are better when the arena is loud. That’s just facts, and I believe that energy starts and stops with the students in attendance.

Here are five ways local schools can foster a better athletic atmosphere on their campuses:

All Rise

I know it’s simple, but there is just a different energy when a crowd of people is standing together. I’m sure a sociologist could better explain this group dynamic, but you know a good crowd when you see one, and the majority of the time, they’re standing.

Of course, the students set the tone. It doesn’t matter if its five or 500 kids, they have to be willing to stand up for the entire game. School administrators also need to give them the space to express their school spirit. Just don’t put them next to the parents.

Rhythm Is Gonna Get You

People love to sing along to their favorite songs, and this year that’s when I’ve seen crowds at their loudest. The only time that LBSU Homecoming crowd got up was when the DJ played Shek Wes’s song “Mo Bamba.” Schools need to embrace that and turn up the good tunes during any stoppage of play.

Student sections can even turn themselves into a “yell-chresta” that provides its own karaoke. That’s what we used to do at LBSU, and you’d be surprised how distracting it is for an opponent shooting free throws while a bunch of kids sing old Weezer songs.

Player Push

Athletes are the best ambassadors for their sports and their schools. That bond is special, and it can be shared with the entire student body if the student-athletes are willing. The team needs to be its own promoter.

Everyone knows it can be embarrassing asking people to take time for your own activity, but this doesn’t have to be a “come see me” request. It’s more of a “come be a part of us” sentiment that can bring the entire school closer together.

Have Love, Will Travel

Speaking of closer together, I believe in the power of road trips. You could know a person for three years, but three hours in a car together will change your relationship. I’m not saying schools should bus students to every away game, but a small group of traveling fans goes a long way.

Part of the reason our LBSU student section got so popular is because we went to the game at Fullerton and absolutely took over that little high school gym. Visiting enemy territory will always bring your soldiers closer together.

Money Talks

This whole experience needs to be free for students, or at least very cheap. We all know California public schools don’t have stacks of cash holding up corners of their desks, but it doesn’t take much money to make a memory. A free T-shirt for the student section to wear is a logical first step. Free pizza is also very, very good.

Do you have another idea? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.