Spirit program riles crowd with giveaways

If you’ve been to a GW basketball game at the Smith Center anytime over the past four months, you’ve probably noticed fans clad in matching white T-shirts and shiny yellow construction hats. If you’ve stuck around for any length of time, you’ve seen cheerleaders delivering free pizza to the crowd and students shooting half court shots for free airline tickets. And if you hung around till the final buzzer, you’ve gotten free Subway coupons and a myriad of basketball posters, magnets and key chains.

These promotions aren’t just to keep GW students clothed and fed, they are part of a Student Activities Center initiative to promote spirit at GW. SAC sponsors the GW cheerleaders, the First Ladies dance team and all three mascots, little George, big George and the hippo, but their spirit is not just focused on basketball games.

SAC took control of the spirit program about four years ago when Senior Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak realized spirit has an athletics connection but could be about more than just games. To encourage the idea that spirit falls under the campus activities realm, he designated SAC as the official promotion group for GW spirit, SAC director Laura Taddeucci Downs said.

“We thought by incorporating spirit in our day to day programming it will reach more people,” she said. “Spirit comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s a lot about pride and we can all work together to promote it.”

SAC’s main focus is promoting athletic events through performances, giveaways and promotions. Downs said SAC strives to get students to truly enjoy their experiences at basketball games, a big part of which falls on the cheerleaders and dance team, the First Ladies.

In addition to their performances, the spirit leaders give out prizes, including T-shirts for every GW three-pointer and pizzas to the loudest section. Before the games, students receive “building a new dynasty” construction hats, T-shirts and posters.

Many of these prizes are donated, Downs said, and those that aren’t, like the T-shirts, are fairly cheap. SAC’s budget comes from the Marvin Center budget, Associate Vice President of SASS Mike Gargano said, and is about $40,00.

Spirit Director and head cheerleading coach Nicole Macchione said she has seen the positive effects of SAC’s promotions with the men’s crowds this season.

“The students have been terrific this year,” she said. “They come with their T-shirts on 45 minutes before game time. And Hobbs appreciates it, in fact the first thing he does is thank the fans after the games.”

Giving the cheerleaders something to dance to is the responsibility of the GW band. While the other spirit groups are all under SAC supervision, the pep band is under the direction of Ben Fritz, director of bands and assistant professor of music. Band members say their music pumps students up for the game.

“I think we help a lot, especially with women’s games because we are a constant set of fans,” saxophone player Chelsea Knight said. “It’s live music so we can play during a timeout and it doesn’t have to be planned.

Like the cheerleaders, dance team and mascots, the band members receive a spirit scholarship that varies depending on how many games they play and how long they’ve been there, Knight said.

While students no doubt enjoy themselves while they are there, the biggest obstacle is to get students to the games in the first place, Downs said, noting she has seen an increased level of interest over the past year.

“Once we get students to the games, they love it and come back, but it is hard getting students to the games,” she said. “Students haven’t seen a (men’s) winning season in a couple years, so it’s a little harder in that sense, but we’ve noticed great crowds this year and we’ve been very pleased,” she said.

Getting students to games isn’t just concentrated on basketball though, as SAC has recently devoted more attention to promoting soccer, softball and lacrosse, all of which play at Mount Vernon Athletic Complex. Downs said SAC is sponsoring more promotions for the soccer and lacrosse team this year, including posters for every home game.

“Mount Vernon gives students a chance to see many different sports that maybe they were involved with in high school,” she said, “so hopefully students will come out and support those teams.”

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