If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Let’s rephrase. This is a classic philosophical question – extremely broad and one that could take an entire month to discuss properly. So here’s a different question, a question more applicable to Chapman students.
If a Panther football team racked up win after win, destroying school records and establishing itself as one of the prominent programs in all of Division III – yet there weren’t always many around to see it – would their success still reverberate throughout campus? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is yes. Attendance significantly improved this year for Chapman football’s home games at Wilson Field.
As with most Panther sports teams, there were high points and low points – weeks with well over a thousand screaming fans in addition to those with only a handful of scattered clappers. However, that may simply be due to college students not wanting to spend hours of their Saturdays away from studies or friends. Ultimately, what’s more important to examine is whether the atmosphere on campus and the attitude toward the team has changed as a result of their undefeated regular season and run into the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III playoffs.
“We have students with an endless variety of scheduling needs and demands – any given night of the week, any given weekend, I think it would be presumptuous of me to assume that there’s no better use of their time than being at a game,” said Dean of Students Jerry Price, who frequently attended the home games. “I would much rather them care about how the team is doing, care about whether students are enjoying success, be proud of fellow students.”
On Monday, Dec. 3, two days after the Panthers lost to Saint John’s University, I handed out surveys to students sitting around different areas of campus, asking their views on the football team. I was preparing myself for resounding indifference. Yet their consensus revealed a noticeable shift in campus pride.
One of the questions asked was, “Have you heard people (friends, random students, faculty) talking about the football team or their success at all this semester?” Out of 47 participants, 62 percent responded that they had. Additionally I asked, “Would you say you’ve felt an increased buzz on campus surrounding the football team or Chapman sports?” of which 36 percent answered yes.
I discussed these results with Chapman professor Peter Weitzner, who’s been affiliated with the school for over 20 years. A lifelong sports fan, Weitzner began almost each of his “Journalism in the 21st Century” classes this fall semester by discussing the football team’s success. He mentioned that of all the time he’s spent at the university, he’s noticed a larger shift in his classrooms’ interest in sports over the past two years.
“That’s an impressive number you gave me,” Weitzner said in response to hearing the statistics. “We live in an age of cynicism.”
Weitzner also hypothesized that interest was growing amongst the student body not solely due to the football program’s success, but also because athletes are more visible on Chapman’s campus and interact with their peers much more frequently than in that of a Division I school. Price agreed with this assessment.
“It might be because they’re in their residence hall; it might be because they’re in their fraternity; it might be because we’re in the same study group,” Price said. “These students really are students. They’re really going to class; they’re paying the same tuition as everybody else and not only are they going to class – in some places, these students in the field are the best students in the class.”
On a different note, students aren’t exactly forming a mob to storm the stands of Wilson Field in forthcoming semesters just yet. In the same survey, only 20 percent of students said they’d attended at least one game this semester, while just 12 percent said the football team’s success increased their interest in Chapman sports.
However, the simple fact that awareness is spreading among students is indicative of a change in attitude. Ultimately, as senior defensive back Nathan Parkin mentioned, it’s small gestures – such as posting or re-sharing an image on social media – that can build an improved atmosphere.
“It’s the little things like that, that will go a long way. You never know who’s going to see it,” Parkin said of posting on social media. “You know, LeBron could see something on Instagram and suddenly show up to a game. Keep showing everybody love – not just football, but all sports.”