How student engagement around sports reflects school spirit at the university

Staff Reporter

College football is often associated with crowds of students bursting with pride as they cheer on their fellow classmates on the field. Despite its prevalence, this classic depiction of school spirit is not always accurate, as students at the university do not seem to adhere to these ideas of school spirit when it comes to sports.

Walking around the university’s campus, you will most likely find numerous students in blue and gold, repping the university’s colors and logo. While students are willing to wear their school’s merch, many do not show up to display this same spirit at football games, leaving the student section with empty seats.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m the most school-spirited,” Ava Tomlinson, a sophomore English education major, says. “I’m proud of where I go, I do participate in merch and stuff on campus, but I’m definitely not as active as I could be.”

Tomlinson, who did not go to the first two home football games of the semester, planned to go to her first one for Parents and Family Weekend with her family. According to Tomlinson, the only time she has truly heard of a large turnout for football games is at opening games or homecoming games.

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Whether it be because university students are not football fans or because the university does not match the reputation of big football schools, such as Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan State, students do not show as much enthusiasm for games.

However, there are a few students who regularly attend each game. One of these students is James Pizzuta, a junior exercise science major.

“It’s fun to represent your team and to cheer for them,” Pizzuta says.

Although Pizzuta enjoys going to the games consistently as a football fan, he also notices how the student section sometimes seems to be somewhat empty.

“In terms of things like sports, I think it’s definitely lacking because considering how big of a school we are compared to other schools of our size, it just seems like people aren’t really as into the sports scene,” Pizzuta says.

When asked about the cause of this lack of school spirit, Tomlinson and Pizzuta seem to have similar answers: The university is not a high enough ranking sports school for students to really get into football, and schools like Penn State just have a better reputation when it comes to sports, specifically football.

“We have a good football team for what division we’re in, but I think compared to other schools of similar size and academic status and everything, I think our team is kind of a little bit lacking,” Pizzuta says.

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Currently, the university is in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), and Pizzuta notes how school spirit and “hype” surrounding football games could increase if the university were to move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) division. While this is not a change that happens overnight, there have been reports of the university potentially moving to an FBS conference.

In the meantime, Ed LeFurge III, director of communications and creative services in athletics, is working alongside other staff members to increase student engagement and support for the university’s sports teams.

“We do a lot to try and engage our students,” LeFurge says. “At all of our different events we run promotions.”

LeFurge describes some of the tactics implemented to inspire students to attend sports games: t-shirts, “cool swag,” holding giveaways and the Cockpit HENergy Challenge – where a student who attends every single football game has the chance to win a $15,000 prize that goes towards student aid.

LeFurge notes how these strategies have given the university its own accomplishments in school spirit.

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“At Delaware, we’ve been really successful,” LeFurge says. “Last year we were sixth in the country [in the FCS] in average attendance. And looking at those numbers from a student standpoint, we had an average of 2,700 students at every home game.”

Students also notice how the earlier games, such as the Parents’ and Family weekend game or the first game of the season, usually seem to have a greater attendance rate.

According to LeFurge, there was a 48% increase in total attendance for football from the year prior. These statistics could speak to an increase in school spirit, although spirit is hard to measure.

LeFurge explains that school spirit is subjective and could vary from pride in your institution to more academic considerations. From a statistics standpoint, LeFurge specifically notes how application numbers are going up, with a 6% increase in freshman applications from fall 2022’s application record, according to statistics reported in UDaily. According to LeFurge, this could correlate with more enthusiasm towards the university.

“We want our students to come out and be loud and have fun and enjoy the experience, and that’s why we have the different amenities that we do for students,” LeFurge says.

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Yet when speaking of school spirit in terms of student engagement at sports games, football being the most popular, the university may not be able to compare to large schools such as University of Maryland and Penn State.

On Sept. 9, the university played then-No. 7 Penn State at an away game. Many students from Delaware, including Pizzuta, attended this game.

Pizzuta explains how even though he is a student at the university, he is also a Penn State football fan since his dad went there, giving him a connection to the school. Although Pizzuta says he ultimately represented Delaware at the game, he noticed how there were some students from Delaware who went in Penn State gear. The final score of the game resulted in a win for Penn State, 63-7.

“Delaware’s not the football powerhouse FBS institution like a Penn State or a Clemson or a Florida State, that’s just not who we are,” LeFurge says. “That’s not the identity of what the institution is.”

Despite the fact that Delaware may not be a “football powerhouse” like other institutions, LeFurge notes that the university is still doing very well for its division, and team morale is closely related to student school spirit.

“It really riles the team up, it gets them excited,” LeFurge says. “Our guys want to go out and play in front of their peers and their fellow students, and having them in attendance at games is really important to us.”