From the Sports editors: Let’s give WashU sports the respect they deserve
Standing for an hour behind the foldable white table with a worn out catcher’s glove, green jersey and malfunctioning Excel sheet on top of it, it was all too easy to get distracted watching fans file in through the arched gates of Francis Field. They carried with them a lively buzz, the near-foreign energy of a crowd that had nearly been forgotten in the arduous 18-month hiatus. People talked, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company; their smiles were a sight for sore eyes.
Turning toward their destination, the stands overlooking the soccer field quickly filled as the men’s soccer team warmed up in preparation for their late August scrimmage against the Missouri School of Science and Technology. As the sun dipped just below the press box, eliciting one of countless beautiful Missouri sunsets caught on campus, one could have almost believed it was all a part of some elaborate trick — a mirage that, after a blink of the eyes, would disappear, leaving nothing but empty seats and the buzz of cicadas. But fans continued to stream in, and as the game finally kicked off, they sounded their support as if they had practiced it all week. Cheering, it turns out, is like riding a bicycle. It has been too long since anyone has seen a dozen, much less hundreds, of Washington University fans fill the stands and cheer on their teams.
Over a week later, that feeling has lingered. Like many things that fell by the wayside during the pandemic, it was easy to forget how electrifying it is to have live sports with fans — and how rare it is for the student body to fully appreciate its teams.
As a sports section, we were only able to fully cover one in-person team this spring. Still, baseball’s trip to the World Series was a perfect example of the beauty of DIII sports that is frequently forgotten. While reporting on the team, we learned about an incredible cast of characters: Head coach Pat Bloom, his hands glued to his knees; the senior outfielders who all lived together and all majored in finance; the first baseman who couldn’t smell; the freshmen who went hunting for every fly ball fouled off behind the field in a constant rotation.
And every team at WashU is the same way: they all wake up for early morning lifts and late-night meals together, balancing school, practice and the campus community around them. You probably have even encountered an athlete in one of your classes, eating lunch in the Danforth University Center or as a TA for one of your classes. Yet the general community around them is simply not paying attention. Ryan Loutos, a spring graduate of the baseball program, said it best. “There’s no halfway: it’s either you’re paying attention — you’re all in — or you’re very academically focused,” he said. “It’s funny, the dichotomy of WashU.”
It’s no secret that the student population at WashU has never exactly embraced sports on campus. Good turnout at games is a surprise, not an expectation, and the non-athlete population has been blissfully ignorant of big matchups on campus. If they post a photo at a sporting event, it usually has an ironic caption, joking that WashU is a sports school. It’s true that Bears games don’t have the traditional atmosphere of schools in the ACC or the Big Ten.
But now that we can finally attend events in person, we have an opportunity to start the fall differently. Our mission as a sports section is to report on that which impacts the WashU sports community; tangent as we are to the real action, we have still been lucky enough to track the stories of these teams and their athletes. Moving forward into the semester, a full slate of fall sports gives us, and more importantly, the community, the chance to fully embrace athletics on campus.
Just look at last weekend’s soccer scrimmage — games are an opportunity to unite as a campus around the teams that represent us. Just because we play Division III sports doesn’t give students an excuse to dismiss its sports. WashU doesn’t need better sports for its fans — instead, it needs better fans for its division-leading teams.
In case you’ve missed it, here’s what you need to know about the return to fall sports: