Column: Does GVSU have a school spirit problem?

GVL / Emily Frye    
Football vs Tiffin on Saturday Novemeber 11, 2017.

GVL / Emily Frye Football vs Tiffin on Saturday Novemeber 11, 2017.

Robbie Triano

I grew up a Michigan State fan, and I can’t remember a time I wasn’t. Sorry Michigan fans, I was born into it.

My fandom was so irrational that I was basically bullied in the third grade because I was the only Spartan in a class of Wolverine fans. If there was a snowball fight in recess, it was a guarantee that those tosses would be thrown at me a little bit harder when I wore my green and white winter beanie. 

However, it didn’t bother me at all. In actuality, I loved every second of it. I could take the hate because I knew I was a future Spartan. I was proud to rep the green and white.

Did I want to go there for that expensive piece of paper called a degree? 

Hell no.  

I wanted to be front row for every football and basketball game—green paint on face—cheering for a victory. There was nothing more that I wanted than to be a part of the “Izzone”. 

Heck, I just wanted to burn a couch.

So when I was applying to colleges, MSU was the only one I had ever thought to apply to. But just to be sure, my mother told me to apply to Grand Valley State as a backup plan.

Long story short, I didn’t get into MSU. For some of you, this story might be a lot like your own.

Thankfully, I’ve realized that GVSU has been the near perfect place for me to mature and grow as a person. Sometimes I take for granted how awesome the Allendale and Grand Rapids campuses are.

But as a senior, just two months away from walking across the graduation stage, I’m left reflecting on one aspect  GVSU has lacked since I got here in the fall of 2014: 

Experiencing true school spirit here at Grand Valley.  

Whether you agree or not, attending a sporting event is best portrayal of school spirit on a college campus. Where else can you experience people comprised of multiple races, genders, political affiliations, etc.—put aside their differences to come together for one common goal? 

During my time as sports editor of the Lanthorn, I’ve attended at least one game from every single varsity program GVSU offers–some not by choice. But each time I’ve been blown away by how talented our student athletes really are.

Just this year, I saw GVSU soccer’s Gabriella Mencotti score 30 miraculous goals in one season en route to another deep playoff run, volleyball’s Staci Brower deliver spikes so vicious they made my jaw drop and football quarterback Bart Williams complete touchdown pass after touchdown pass to wide receivers Brandon Bean, Urston Smith and Nick Keizer and countless other athletes. The list doesn’t end.

But what has been a major concern for GVSU Athletics Department derives from the lack of engagement/spirit from “Laker Nation.” 

Although it’s not fair to compare GVSU to other Division I programs, it is fair to compare ourselves to those competing schools around us. Look over at our major rival, Ferris State. When we went to cover the Ferris State/GVSU football showdown late October, it was one of the most electric, loud environments I’ve been to. Throughout four quarters, the bleachers remained packed. 

I mean, Ferris? We’re really going to let those guys beat us? 

The problem isn’t a shortage of things to cheer about, as GVSU is arguably one of the best athletically in Division II. It’s almost a guarantee that each varsity team will make the postseason tournament. We even take for granted the teams will consistently make National Championship runs. We put the football team first (for good reasons), but women’s soccer and track and field are dominating the field year after year.

GVSU’s athletics and marketing have been understanding the reasoning for the lack of student support of our sporting events. During the football team’s final home game against Tiffin, a message appeared on the Lubbers Stadium scoreboard—the largest in all of Division II—which read, “Don’t be a fair weather fan. Stay and cheer until the game is over!”

It didn’t work. The crowd vanished. 

On Senior Day. 

Most recently, the GVSU men’s and women’s basketball teams held three basketball “Downtown Thursday” games at the DeltaPlex Arena this season. The venture wasn’t a great success.

There are those memes and funny tweets about being a ‘student athlete’, but they honestly don’t get the credit they deserve. It’s very under the radar to the public eye, but these teams are constantly practicing to get better for an entire year. Their offseasons aren’t really considered “off”. 

So what actually is going to make this all work?

With only two months left until I graduate from GVSU, I have one more goal to accomplish. That goal is to bring more students together to cheer on our Laker athletic programs. I know we have students itching to do the same things students at DI schools are doing. 

But I can’t do it alone. We need all of your help to make this actually work.

Because one day this school will have to compete in Division I. If not, GVSU just doesn’t see the potential these programs truly have and making a huge mistake about the potential of this Grand Valley brand and location. We’re a quick drive right over to the city of Grand Rapids, the second largest in Michigan.

Truth is, the move to DI will not happen until any of us graduate–and it makes sense. GVSU just isn’t ready. Whether it’s financing, finding money for more scholarships or having to upgrade the facilities, like the Fieldhouse Arena, it’s going to take some time. I’d write more about how the necessary improvements to the Fieldhouse, but that’s for another column down the road. 

Plain and simple, we just need more Laker super fans. We need a fan base who is proud to wear blue and white and not afraid to show it. We need more people, rather than our amazing pep band (seriously, they’re hilarious) to just get hype.

Most importantly, there just need to be more people there at the games. They are way too entertaining and a great pregame to the rest of your night’s festivities. 

Also, the more people, the better chance our team’s are going to win. There’s not a single athlete in the world that doesn’t play better when a crowd of cheering them on. On the other side,  it rattles the other team to take them out of the game mentally. 

The thing is, I don’t want to fully blame the students for this. There is just so much going on. With so many students living off campus—either in Allendale or downtown Grand Rapids—or having various jobs, it makes sense that the seats aren’t filled every night.  

Just like myself, most students probably didn’t grow up as die-hard Laker fans. Like I already said, I grew up green and white in my blood. I came here and I was seemingly adopted into the Laker Nation.

But I know now how good we really are. It took some time, but I am happy to say I’m a Laker for a Lifetime.

All I ask is that we show a little bit more pride in our university and the athletics we provide. 

Just go to one game and you’ll see.

Here’s where I open it up to you guys. If you have an idea or suggestion for how to improve our school spirit, email us at [email protected] or tweet at @GVLSports. Your voice will be heard.