Be a part of the Blugold spirit

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The stadium lights go on. The field is quiet as parents, students, friends and die-hard fans slowly fill the bleachers to create an extension of the team off the field.

As the athletes take their positions, the dull hum of the crowd turns into an excited roar. As so many announcers have said before, the crowd goes wild.

But that’s not always the case, especially in a college setting where so many sports are offered. UW-Eau Claire offers students 14 different sports to play and the facilities used for those sports are spread across campus and the city. Some teams are known for their big crowds while others seem to fall short.

“One of our challenges here is that our sports facilities are all spread out,” said Eau Claire athletics director Scott Kilgallon. “We have volleyball, wrestling, swimming and gymnastics in McPhee, men and women’s basketball in Zorn, women’s soccer out at Bollinger Field, and then we also have the facilities we share with the city for ice hockey and football. With everything so spread out, it’s not that convenient for student fans.”

Leslie Huntington, head coach for the Blugold softball team, also believes the priorities of Division III schools affect the number of fans attending the games.

“The Division III philosophy is that we’re not supposed to cater to the fans,” she said. “It’s about student athlete participation. But unfortunately, in our world of instant access to everything, fans come to expect to be entertained, which I think makes our job even more challenging because we’re having to come up with creative ways to keep the fans engaged.”

Even with this challenge, Eau Claire has an impressive fan base, especially being a Division III school, Kilgallon said.

“A lot of our student athletes have mentioned that having fans there helps them in competing,” he said. “We’ve had some great students dress up and attend these events, it’s just great to see.”

Deanna Gilane of South Milwaukee is a junior and has played for the softball team since she was a freshman. Although she knows her team’s away schedule makes it hard for student fans to watch their games, she appreciates all of the support from family and friends.

“We have a good fan base on the road and at home,” Gilane said. “It means a lot to us as players because they are investing time in us. All of our fans are important to us, and it’s awesome to have that boost of confidence.”

Some coaches and athletes believe a correlation exists between the number of fans and the way the teams play, but it all depends on the individual person or team. Junior Cody Taubman is beginning his third year with the Eau Claire football team.

“I feel like people play better when there are fans there, there’s a lot more energy and it’s easier to feed off of,” Taubman said. “If there are no fans there, who are we really playing for? You want to make a big play because you know the crowd will get loud.”

His teammate, sophomore defensive back Jim Schroeter, agrees that fans help boost morale and make athletes want to play better.

“Most of the fans there are either family or alumni and most of the players who have played here before are in the stands,” Schroeter said. “We want to live up to what they’ve done and exceed that, but make them proud and happy to be at the games and not disappointed when they leave.”

Whether it’s a connected experience between fans and athletes, or just a boost of confidence, athletes and coaches alike value the time and support given from friends, family and Blugold students. If students are interested in seeing a game, schedules and times can be found on blugolds.com.

“It’s so exciting for student athletes because it’s like ‘wow, we must have something special here if all these people are coming out to see us play,’” Huntington said. “You can see it in the way they carry themselves and you can see how much of a boost it gives them.”