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The pandemic’s long-lasting impact on Gonzaga’s winter athletics

In 2019, Gonzaga students attended games and didn’t worry about masks. Students continually adapt to school rules and their competitions’ rules regarding attendance. Photo taken from Gonzaga Athletics Facebook page

One of the most important parts of the Gonzaga student experience is attending athletic events like football, basketball, hockey and soccer games to support classmates by cheering them on. However, the era of covid has disrupted this experience and tradition for many current students. While students may miss attending games, the absence of spectators can also impact the athletes who still have to play without any fan support.

“Fans definitely help us perform at the best of our ability,” said senior Nate Kurisky, a tight end for the Gonzaga Football team who recently committed to the University of Louisville.

Gonzaga Students attend a home basketball game; last year, students did not get to attend games in person. Photo submitted by Coach Steve Turner

In all levels of athletics, having a crowd to cheer an athlete on is actually something that can turn the tide of a game or give the home team players some extra vigor and adrenaline. This is one of the reasons the “home-field advantage” is so important in playoff games in sports. Being able to play in a familiar place with a friendly crowd can really make a difference, especially in high school. In high school, not only is the crowd cheering the athlete on, but the athlete actually knows a lot of the people in the crowd, which can give him even more drive and motivation. 

Kurisky  shared how the pandemic had affected his own and the football team’s performance in games. 

“The fans definitely make it better; they give us a boost,” Kurisky said. 

Kurisky said that the crowd can even supply an “adrenaline rush” to the players, which is something that can directly impact the players’ performances and even make it harder for the opposing team to perform. 

Senior Devin Dinkins, a Gonzaga point guard for the basketball team and a commit to George Mason University, agreed with Kurisky.

“The fans definitely help; they give you adrenaline. You can feel their energy, which becomes your own energy,” Dinkins said.

Covid protocols across the country and in the DMV mean that Gonzaga teams have to abide by different regulations depending on who they play and the rules of that jurisdiction. For example, if schools in Virginia allow fans in their games, it doesn’t mean Gonzaga can when they host a Virginia team. 

“It’s not fair when other schools can have fans, and we can’t; it definitely gives them an advantage that we aren’t allowed to replicate at home,” Kurisky said.

 Dinkins also commented on the fact that despite the lack of fans at games, he couldn’t really be too upset at that because he didn’t want to take for granted the fact that he is getting to actually play this year. 

“When we have fans; it’s great, but we can’t take being able to play for granted. I can remember when we weren’t able to play at all, and that was much worse than right now, being able to play, even without fans,” Dinkins said.

Mr. Marshall Marks, an assistant athletic director at Gonzaga,  recently graduated from Xavier University with a degree in sports management. His professional background in the field of sports management gives him some insight others may not have about the importance of fans.

Gonzaga Students at a home basketball game use newspapers to intimidate the opposing team. Photo submitted by Coach Steve Turner

“I don’t have any specific data that shows how student spectators affect athletic performance at home games as it is simply not something that is studied yet. However, if you look at the studies that have been done regarding college basketball and football games, it is clear that having fans packing the stadium cheering on their team is a huge, quantifiable advantage,” Mr. Marks said.“I can’t put numbers on a whiteboard and say ‘two plus two equal four’ in this case of high school athletics, but my hunch would be that fans definitely affect the overall performance of high school athletes.”

Kacey Tarbrake, senior, a member of the Gonzaga swim team, was also able to share some insight into how spectators affect the swim team’s performance.

“You could definitely see a difference between what happened before and after covid and how the swim team was affected. In theory, I could definitely see how a lack of spectators at meets might give us a disadvantage,” Tarbrake said.

From mindset, energy and drive, there is a reason that fans are often called the “twelfth man” at a home football game. Covid has made it hard on the student-athletes to perform at the same level as before when fans were allowed at all games, no questions asked. However, with covid starting to release its grip on our community, the future is bright for Gonzaga athletes to continue to perform at such high levels we have come to expect. 

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