Smith: Food, Fun and Community

by Andres Smith | 4/28/15 5:45pm

Saturdays in Hanover are quite nice. It’s a chance to recover from the previous night’s revelry, go grab some brunch at Lou’s Restaurant or Market Table and maybe go for a hike if the weather is decent. In many other college towns across the country, however, Saturdays exist for one reason and one reason only — game day. The entire town seemingly shuts down as everyone makes their way toward the stadium for a day of grilled food, tailgates and watching their team while screaming their heads off. Unfortunately, this culture doesn’t seem to exist at Dartmouth or in the Upper Valley, although we have all the necessary ingredients.

Though this culture of apathy extends to just about all the sports teams, the most egregious case comes with Dartmouth football. We have a stadium conveniently located on campus, a storied football program with more than a century of history and a skilled team that is highly competitive in the Ivy League. This past year, we were one win away from winning the entire Ivy League Football Championship for the first time since 1996 — yet student presence at the games was meager at best. We were out-attended by our opponents in 2014 by an average of about 2,000 fans per game. Yale’s home game against Army brought in a whopping 34,142 fans — more than the combined number of fans that attended all of the Big Green’s home games this year. Yale is bigger than Dartmouth, to be sure, but that does not justify this massive disparity in attendance numbers.

Yet, the issue extends beyond football. We have a school full of great teams and multimillion dollar athletics facilities, but our sporting events are still often woefully under-attended, especially by students. With more support from student organizations and the school, however, as well as increased community outreach, athletics can become a more integral part of the Dartmouth experience and the Upper Valley culture as a whole.

As I mentioned above, many other college towns come together on game days for tailgates. What’s not to like about them? There’s food, drink and fun to get you excited about the upcoming sports game. At many other schools, such as Texas A&M University or Pennsylvania State University, the students attend tailgates hosted by Greek houses, which are a staple of the game day social scene. Because these events promote a safe and fun social space — while also getting people excited about Dartmouth sports, the College should work with Greek houses and other social groups to put on larger and more frequent game day tailgates.

Doing so would both provide a daylight use for Greek social spaces and increase support for Dartmouth athletics. If you go to the tailgate, the natural progression is to then go to the game. Just like that, the student presence and enthusiasm at sporting events increases dramatically. This also provides a potential safety benefit — if people spend their Saturday tailgating and going to sporting events, they may end up more tired by the evening, possibly leading to tamer Saturday nights for those in charge of managing risk at houses and Safety and Security alike. Though affiliated students would still be in charge of managing risk at tailgates, students are less likely to engage in high-risk drinking in broad daylight, surrounded by adults in the community and potentially even television cameras. Greek houses and other organizations would probably need some school funding to host these events on a regular basis, but a small amount of money can go a long way toward improving campus culture.

I know that there are many things that people will argue are more worthy of time and resources than increasing support for Dartmouth athletics. Yet, as great as Dartmouth is, strong support for our athletic teams could bring us all closer together and get the Upper Valley even more involved in the Dartmouth community.