I was vibrating and almost falling. People to each side of me on the wooden bench were jumping up and down at different times, so I couldn’t keep my knees straight. In fact, standing up in the middle of a bouncy inflated castle filled with six-year-old kids who’ve eaten too much sugar would have been easier.
I was at my first GW Colonials men’s basketball game, and with about three minutes left, Maureece Rice gave GW its first lead in the game against Saint Joseph’s since their 2-0 lead at the outset. The Smith Center exploded, and I discovered one thing Americans do miles better than Europeans: college sports.
As a true European, I take pride in pointing out what Americans do wrong – drinking light beer, pausing sport games for advertisements, using the antiquated measurement system and playing rugby with loads of armor are just a few. As soon as I walked into the Smith Center last Wednesday, however, I knew Americans had properly beaten us here.
I left my posh European attitude at the door and got caught up in the shouting, singing, clapping, jumping, whistling, yelling and dancing. I was doing that thing with my hands in the air, moving my fingers up and down when someone was making a penalty shot. I tried to sing along with the GW fight song, I was jumping to get a free T-shirt and I even had a laugh together with Big George.
The great thing is you don’t really have to be a die-hard basketball fan to enjoy a game; I don’t even really get the rules, but the atmosphere made the hairs on my arms stand up anyway. European university sports are nothing like this, at least not in Leeds, England where I usually study. Not even the soccer team playing the national sport draws a crowd, let alone a screaming-so-you-lose-your-voice crowd. This may be understandable; after all, who wants to stand outside in the rain for 90 minutes?
But the climate isn’t the problem. I once saw the Leeds University men’s basketball team play – I was one of four spectators. They did actually have cheerleaders though, but the three of them were standing against one wall wearing tracksuit bottoms under their skirts, with a pom-pom in one hand and wrapping their chewing gum around the tip of their index finger with the other. No human pyramids, no glitter, no megaphones.
For me, American college sports aren’t just different compared to college sports in Europe; professional sports are different too. I could get the same atmosphere at a Premier League soccer game in England, but only if I was a big fan of one of the teams. At the GW game, though, I didn’t need to know the players’ names or the team’s history to feel involved. I already had a stake in the game: they were playing for my school.
European universities should look at American colleges and start giving their sports teams more attention. Increasing students’ involvement in their institution is not only a fun way for the individual to let some excess energy out, but it would also be a good thing for a university’s reputation and recruitment.
This is, however, not as easy as it sounds. For example, men’s coach Karl Hobbs gets a hefty salary each year, and orchestrating such an event as a GW basketball game takes a lot of time, staff and money. Few European universities have an excess of either – but looking for inspiration costs little.
I have no good answer as to why we Europeans are boring when it comes to college sports – maybe because we are known to be a bit more reserved (read: stuck up). But who doesn’t want to have a Karl Hobbs jumping on the sideline or a big inflatable bopping, boxing and hip-hop dancing founding father? Who doesn’t want to have the opportunity once a week to sing along to a big band playing Queen songs or to wear a big inflatable finger?
I rest my case and will accordingly take these questions back to the board of directors of Leeds University as soon as I get back to Britain. I will tell them, “Go to GW. They really understand how to do college sports.”
-The writer is a junior majoring in