A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Opinion: No students in sight: Attendance lags at marquee events

Tony Moeckel
Attendance at Bear Cubs sporting events lags due to low student interest influenced by the college’s lackluster effort at increasing school spirit.

In their last game of the year, against the higher-ranked Sierra College, the Santa Rosa Junior College football team pulled off an unlikely upset. When the clock hit triple zeros the Bear Cubs sideline erupted and a roar of cheers and screams could be heard throughout the stadium. The players stormed Bailey Field and created a giant mosh pit at midfield, a pile of players hugging and jumping up and down in excitement. 

Except one thing was missing from the post-game celebration: the students. 

Instead of a rowdy student crowd rushing the field to jump for joy alongside the players, the stands were filled with only a few dozen family members and friends of players. But this was the type of game that should be packed with students because of the magnitude of the rivalry. 

Four-year college attendees would never miss a big-time rivalry game, but two-year community college students missed out on the whole football season. They never formed a significant crowd at either home game. 

The SRJC home football games have never hosted a packed student section, according to Head Coach Lenny Wagner, “In the 22 years that I have been here, there has not been much done to encourage general students to attend.” 

There needs to be a significant change to the atmosphere around home games in general, not just for football. The student-athletes are missing out on electric crowds and the students are missing out on college experiences they can remember forever. 

SRJC Athletic Director Matt Markovich said post-pandemic attendance at home football games has mirrored pre-pandemic turnout, but he has some ideas to get students in the bleachers. 

One of the biggest steps we could do would be to put some resources behind a sports information director,” Markovich said. “That could help organize events like student red-out nights, create student sections in the bleachers, and promote athletics on our campus more broadly.”

Wagner thinks the school can also entice students to attend home games with student rallies, free food and a designated student section. 

Despite very little change in football attendance, Markovich said other fall sporting events have grown in attendance. Volleyball and soccer have seen an uptick in attendance compared to pre-pandemic crowds. 

But a large part of the increase at volleyball home games is due to more family members and friends attending games. “They wouldn’t even open up the other half of the bleachers because it was only family members in the crowds,” star volleyball player Lilah Bacon said. 

There is no reason why college sports teams should have lower student attendance and support than area high school athletics, especially when the college teams are high performing. 

The lack of student attendance at SRJC sporting events can be blamed on two things: the lack of advertising around campus and the continuation of students learning online, not immersing themselves into in-person college life. 

Around Sonoma County, you can walk into a high school stadium or gymnasium and immediately point out the student section. Why is that not a thing for sporting events at the next level? 

Dismal attendance marks the Santa Rosa Junior College Women’s Basketball game against Shasta College Nov. 17 2022, in Haehl Pavillion. (Tony Moeckel)

High schools do a better job than SRJC in spreading the word about upcoming sporting events. “Leadership class and the Trojan Live broadcast class [morning announcements] are two ways students hear about upcoming events,” said Petaluma High Assistant Varsity Football Head Coach Nick Emanuel. 

According to Markovich, JC athletics has advertised games to students on social media and on the Bear Cubs webpage, but the effort isn’t enough. 

Although SRJC’s student attendance at sporting events fell slightly after the pandemic, high school sports took a different turn. Emmanuel said when classes resumed in person last year, student attendance was through the roof at sporting events. 

He had never seen such crowds; every home game seemed like the Egg Bowl, Petaluma’s game between cross town rival Casa Grande. 

Not only are football games attracting student fans for Petaluma High, other sports are as well. “I would say football is number one, but volleyball and basketball are tied for number two in terms of student attendance,” Emanuel said. 

SRJC Athletics, with support from college officials, can adopt similar strategies as Petaluma High to increase student turnout at games. Free food at game day pep rallies could entice students around campus to attend the upcoming event especially if the rallies take place in the center of campus to attract as many students as possible. Student-athletes could give speeches at rallies and encourage students to attend their games, helping the athletes gain exposure, thus growing the college’s school spirit.  

Signs or posters around campus advertising home games could also help. High schools provide fun atmospheres at home games by creating a theme for their student section, like White-Out Night or Country Night. SRJC Athletics could adopt similarly themed student sections in an effort to increase both the students’ and athletes’ anticipation for game day. 

But while coaches and college officials need to improve their marketing strategies, SRJC students are also at fault. 

Since the pandemic, Zoom and asynchronous online classes have grown in popularity. They are the first to fill, instead of in-person ones, because they allow students to be remote. However, remote students bent over laptops in their bedrooms are not participating in campus life. 

If students are sitting at home, advertising and gimmicks are reaching no one. 

Not only are sporting events taking place on campus, but theatre arts performances are back with the opening of two shows, “Stand and Deliver” and “Spongebob the Musical.” 

“We opened our first show in the studio theatre, which seats 200 people and it did great. It was at pre-pandemic levels,” said Leslie McCauley, theatre arts department chair. 

However, attendance is still not consistent for the theatre arts program. Despite “The Spongebob Musical” debuting in a 400-person auditorium, the attendance was lower than she thought it would be on opening night. 

Before Spring of 2020, attendance at theatre arts performances was always strong. “Before the pandemic we were in swing space because of the remodel of Burbank auditorium. So we were performing at Maria Carrillo High School, Sonoma State and Newman Auditorium,” McCauley said. “We were all over the place, and our houses were still excellent.”

To get to packed gyms and bleachers, SRJC students need to set down their computer and start experiencing college how it should be: by taking advantage of the multiple in-person events happening around campus every week.  

So if you are tired of dozing off in another Zoom class or sick of doomscrolling alone, get on campus to help build the SRJC community and have a good time in the process. 

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About the Contributor
Tony Moeckel
Tony Moeckel, News Editor, Reporter
Tony Moeckel (he/him) is in his third year at SRJC and returning to The Oak Leaf for his third semester. He enjoys covering football, basketball and baseball for the Bear Cubs. He aspires to be a professional sports journalist or sports broadcaster.

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