It’s a Friday night. The stands are packed as you and your friends are squeezed into the front row. The game is intense, students are leading cheers while all decked out in blue to support their school. While picturing this scene, a common memory for most students at Oyster River: did you imagine a boy’s game or a girl’s game?
The typical student at Oyster River would picture a boys’ game, mostly basketball or soccer. Because of the popularity of these games, the scene described above is not something that happens at girls’ games. Attendance for girls’ sports games has always tended to be far less than that at boys’ games. Although this seems like this might be trivial for the female athletes at Oyster River, the low turnout at games can mentally affect those students, lowering their confidence, and in some cases causing athletes to turn away from the sport entirely.
As someone who has played sports all four years at high school, including basketball, I have witnessed and experienced the toll it can take on a team. Whether it’s a Monday night game against a random team, or a Friday night game against the school’s rival, the student section is consistently empty for girls’ basketball.
One of the most frustrating moments in my high school basketball career was our late-season home game against Coe-Brown. Our team had already played Coe-Brown earlier in the season on the road, and we had beaten them by double digits. The idea of having another shot at the win this time at home excited me along with a lot of other players on the team.
Using our Instagram account, @realhoopers_101, we advertised the game as much as we could. Although the student section that year had already been disappointing like the empty stands during senior night, we had high hopes that some of the “superfans” would show up for the Friday night game.
The student section remained barren that night, the rejection feeling extra bitter after seeing the social media posts of a packed Oyster River student section on the road at Coe-Brown to support the boys.
Our game was close and ended up in a tough loss. Our team had low energy and felt a student section could have given us the edge against Coe- Brown. I felt endlessly jealous of the boys’ team having a similarly close game, yet in the end they were able to pull out a win. Our team fell into “negative headspace going into the following games and ended the season losing games we should have been winning.
In the process, we lost players, including a senior who quit the team before the season even ended. Although the empty student sections are not a direct problem, it certainly does not make any players stay.
One person who has seen this play out is Don Maynard, Exercise Physiology and Wellness teacher and former girls’ Basketball coach at Oyster River. When speaking about the empty fan section, he said, “I think it’s something [the girls’ team] definitely noticed and maybe felt a little bad about.”
Although Maynard does not coach anymore, he says these bad feelings surrounding fan sections is still something he hears, “Whether I’m a teacher overhearing something like that, it bothered me to hear because I felt bad for the girls who work really hard.”
Maynard’s point about how the girls are working hard can play into the thoughts that many girl athletes have. When seeing an empty student section, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that they are not deserving of fans.
Jumping to conclusion like these can affect the way female athletes perform. One thing that my basketball coach always says is “it is all in the state of mind,” basically saying that if you think you can’t, you won’t. If a team truly believes that they do not deserve fans, they will start to play like it.
Athletic Director Andy Lathrop has noticed this trend and is unsure of the true cause, “is it because of the success of the team? I don’t know…So, I think it depends on the sport.”
Maynard agreed with Lathrop, thinking that success is what ultimately drives fans to come to games, “that’s why [girls’ teams] need to win some games this year. Give these [students] a reason to get out and watch.” But if the success of a team is what decides the fan turn out, then the 2022 Volleyball team should have had a lot more fans.
One of the things that Lathrop mentioned was that some sports are just historically more popular than others like hockey. However, Lathrop’s point doesn’t hold true for the girls’ hockey team which never has many fans. The same goes for the point about how successful teams get more attention. This theory also would not apply to all teams when looking at the girls’ hockey team, who were seeded number one going into playoffs which was higher than the boys.
The underlying reason here could be that students at Oyster River do not find girls’ sports entertaining reflecting the common belief of society. When thinking about inequality in sports, one thing that is often looked at is the difference in pay. But the reason for having low pay is because women’s sports tend to draw fewer viewers or ticket buyers, therefore generating less revenue.
Maynard thinks that this inequality is unfair, “If you’re a fan of basketball then I don’t think it should matter [whether you’re watching boys or girls].” Maynard says he enjoys watching WNBA and women’s college games, and “especially [enjoyed watching] when I was coaching, because what they were doing was way more applicable to me as a coach. I used some of their stuff actually in our games.”
Both Maynard and Lathrop think that there are things that students and the school population could be doing to increase the attendance at girls’ games. Maynard mentioned things like “threes for tees,” where there would be a t-shirt toss every time an Oyster River makes a three.
Things like this aim to increase the student fan population, but the only people who can truly make a difference are the students themselves. If you consider yourself a sports fan and enjoy going to boys’ soccer or hockey games, try to change it up occasionally, and go out to a girls’ game. You’d be surprised at how much the change in the atmosphere affects those playing, and nothing is better than watching Oyster River win!