Dartmouth's spirit remains strong

by Michelle Comeau | 10/31/97 6:00am

A stranger arriving this weekend on campus would be treated to an amazing picture of school spirit. Entire groups of people dressed in green and white, a bonfire burning in honor of the freshman class and an entire night of activities: all are preparing students for the Big Game.

This is the picture of Homecoming, the biggest and brightest weekend of the fall, where students rally around the football team and show their unbounding school spirit.

At least, for the weekend.

In years past, there have been concerns that school spirit is declining at the College. Attendance figures from the athletic office seem to dictate otherwise. The figures reflect attendance at four sports with a charge for admission. Each showed an increase since 1993. Football showed the biggest jump of 13.5 percent.

However, the high football attendance figures mask a steady decline in student season ticket sales. Between the 94-95 and 95-96 seasons sales declined by 223, according to ticket office figures. The following season showed a decline of 61. The 97-98 season, still unfinished, shows a decline of 174 student subscriptions. While these figures do not include student game by game sales, they illustrate a trend of declining student commitment to the sport.

Sales of Dartmouth merchandise are also used as a measure of school spirit. Traditionally Trendy, located on Main St., does most of its business in Dartmouth-related shirts and souvenirs. Their sales over the past few years have been fairly steady.

However, the store did see an increase in T-shirt sales last fall when the football team began its winning streak. According to salesman Hector Floors, "When they are winning, we all do well."

While this suggests school spirit is fairly one-dimensional, others emphasize that this is not the case at all. In fact, several other less recognized sports draw steady crowds. JoAnn Nester, Associate Director of Athletics for Compliance and Administration, cited women's field hockey, women's lacrosse, and men's lacrosse as popular sports.

For many, the biggest problem with school spirit is the perpetual disparity between support of women's and men's sports. Mikisha Brown '00 said this was not unique to Dartmouth. The former basketball player said whenever the Dartmouth team played other Ivy League teams "their stands were never full."

"We do better than other campuses ... but there's still a disparity," Brown said.

She pointed to the surrounding community, rather than Dartmouth students, as the prime source of support for the team. She said the team sees a small, intense group of students that come to all the games.

Gretchen Mather '00 cited a similar phenomenon for women's soccer. "At home games especially, we have a lot of support, but it's mostly our close friends," Mather said. She and Brown contrasted this with men's games, especially football. They said these games are social events, where many people who go have little knowledge of the game itself.

"They go because the thing to do at Homecoming is to wear your jersey and go to the football game," said Mather.

Football is a favored sport for logistical reasons, as well. Kathryn Greer '00 said that while she has several friends on women's teams, the timing and location of the games make it difficult for her to attend. "The football field is close, the soccer fields are far, and it's Saturday morning compared to the middle of the week," she said.

Mike Lee '00, a member of the Ultimate Frisbee team, pointed out that low sports attendance does not necessarily indicate a lack of school spirit.

He said a more likely scenario is that students at the College just don't have enough time to make the games. "Balancing social, academic and extracurriculars doesn't leave much time for anything else without going crazy."

Mather expressed a similar sentiment. "I believe all Dartmouth students support their school 100 percent and would go to all the games if they could," she said.

"At Dartmouth, school spirit is not limited to athletics ... we also have writers, musicians, and actors who need support ... there are many arenas," Mather said.