A couple years ago, I sat inside the gymnasium at Pleasant Grove High School while I took in my first ever women’s basketball game. The bleachers on both sides of the court were mostly empty. I often found myself glancing up at the championship banners that hung from the rafters because reading them was more interesting than watching the game. Apparently Pleasant Grove was a power house in the early ‘60s and ‘70s in every sport, but I’m way too young to remember their glory days.
As for the game I was witnessing? Well, it was hard to watch. Obviously, it lacked the highlight type plays fans are accustomed to seeing in the men’s game. No dunks and more turnovers than shot attempts, but it also lacked fundamentals. I had no idea I would become such a fan of the women’s game years later.
Three years after the game, I had lunch with the UVU athletic department. They needed a women’s play-by-play broadcaster. As a little kid I dreamt of being a sports broadcaster. I did not dream of being a women’s broadcaster, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to broadcast for a Division I team. It took a few games for me to wash my brain of all the false connotations that are married to women’s sports, like the notion of a lack of skill because women aren’t as athletic as men. Once I ridded my brain of the misnomers, I found myself admiring the women’s game rather than critiquing it.
I picked a good time to become invested in the UVU women’s team because I was able to witness the superb senior season of Sammie Jensen. She won back-to-back Great West Conference Player of the Year awards as a Wolverine. Jensen averaged 17.5 points while grabbing 14.1 rebounds per game. She could do it all, no lie. Three-pointers? No problem. 30-point games? Yeah, she did that as well. I marveled at her skill set. I don’t remember the exact game, but I’ll always remember a specific play.
An opposing guard drove into the lane. Jensen wanted nothing to do with her weak attempt at the rack and swatted the living daylight out of the basketball. Her block ignited a fast break. Jensen finished the break by receiving the ball near the free throw line. Instead of throwing up a contested jumper, she put the ball on the floor, spun out of a double team and finished a difficult layup that resulted in an and-one opportunity. I shouldn’t have to tell you that she made the free throw, but she did, to set the record straight.
It was that kind of dazzling play from Jensen and other players that helped me observe something that most broadcasters don’t encounter. I began to notice other media members looking at me when I would get energetic and loud following a spectacular play. I pride myself on being a broadcaster who doesn’t hold back raw emotion, and I couldn’t hide my enthusiasm in those moments of amazement.
It wasn’t until the season finished that I realized why people would look at me during those moments where I lost control. There wasn’t any sound to drown out my loud commentary because there weren’t any fans in the bleachers. Of course everyone could hear me. The hall of flags on a Monday morning was louder than the UCCU center was last season.
Do you know how many seats are inside the UCCU center? The correct answer would be 8,500. Here’s a trickier question: what percentage of those are filled for men’s and women’s basketball games? The men’s team averaged 2,275 fans per game last season, which filled roughly 26.7 percent of the arena. The numbers are even worse for the women’s team. Three-hundred and eighty-five fans attended the women’s games on average. That means that 95.5 percent of the arena was empty during the games. That’s embarrassing.
I started attending UVU back in 2007 when it was still UVSC. There wasn’t a fancy library or a new science building back in those days. Something interesting has happened at UVU since then. The attendance rose every year until the LDS church changed the age that young men and women could serve missions.
UVU rivals BYU for the largest student body in the state of Utah. Growing attendance is a large reason why UVU continues to find money to expand and add new buildings. The same principle applies to the athletic department. If students want a successful team, they need to fill the stands. It’s hard to recruit better players to play at our school when we have to fold up half the available seats to make it seem like the arena is more full than it actually is. The UCCU center is quite a spectacle when it’s full to capacity.
I understand some of the reasoning behind this lack in attendance. Many UVU students live off campus. Others are married with families. Although valid, I don’t think those are the reasons my fellow Wolverines fail to show face at the school’s athletic events. The primary reason lies with the student’s allegiance to BYU and Utah. Yes, I left Utah State out on purpose.
Here’s the thing, I bleed blue. I love my BYU Cougars. I try to go to as many games as possible. Even though I acknowledge that BYU is my college team, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for my Alma Mater. As a broadcaster, I find myself in the fortunate spot of being able to watch the basketball teams from behind the scenes. The closer I get, the more interested I become in UVU sports. There’s a special feeling when you root on your eventual alma mater. It’s different than cheering for another college or professional team you’ve loved your whole life. There’s a natural passion built in.
You don’t know it’s there until you experience a game at your own school. Trust me I would know. I wear BYU shirts and hats on campus all the time. But when it’s game time at the UCCU center, I forget all about BYU and suddenly my blood runs green for a few hours. I never thought I would feel that way. I still love BYU. I always will. But I love UVU as well and there’s room for both.
I’m not asking you to abandon your allegiance to other teams. I am asking you to make an effort to come support your school’s athletic teams. There are so many great players here that deserve more support from their students. If you don’t come for the sports, come for the free shirts. My closet is getting full.
I gave the Wolverines a chance and to my surprise I enjoyed going to the games. I imagine the same thing will happen to you. Don’t be the student who graduates from school without ever attending an athletic event from the university you attended.