Senior Sports Reporter
It’s the peak of basketball season at Keene State College.
The Owls are up by only two points against the opposing team.
It’s halftime and suddenly the crowd of students begins to trickle out of the stands and head for the doors.
Dr. Ron Butcher, who is watching the audience leave, pulls aside three girls and three boys and asks them why they’re leaving.
Their response: “We have to go downtown to get a seat at Lab n’ Lager [because] we don’t want to stand.”
This is a true story told by Butcher, the ex-head coach of the men’s soccer team who is now the marketing coordinator for the Keene State Athletic Department.
Over the past few years there has been a decline in student-body attendance at home sports games, and Keene State is not the only college experiencing it.
“There’s been a decline in student attendance at athletic events pretty much across the board,” said Philip Racicot, the athletic director for Keene State. “Some of it is because many years ago [schools] used to just take it for granted that students were going to come to [the] games, and now [students] have a lot more options and things to do.”
That loss of attendance has not gone unnoticed at Keene, however, especially by Ron Butcher.
“The difference between the 70s, 80s, 90s and the present day is big,” said Butcher who coached at the school for 43 years. “Especially from the 2000s on it has really changed here. Before then we used to get great crowds… [men’s soccer] played Franklin Pierce one night… in the late 80s before we went to Division III at the old stadium, where field hockey plays now, [and] the bleachers that hold 1,200 [people]—you couldn’t get a seat, and they were lined around the field two fold from both schools.”
With the regular fall season for all Keene State sports coming to a close and the championship season fast approaching, now is the time to have the bleachers packed with Keene State students cheering on their teams.
But instead, there are games with turnouts as little as 70 people and the majority of those are more often than not family members coming to support their sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, etc.
“We don’t get as much of a student presence as we do more of a student-athlete [and] parent presence,” explained Peter Evans, a Keene State senior majoring in news media journalism who works in the press box at home sports contests.
One team Evans covers on occasion is Keene State’s field hockey team, who last week had one of their most anticipated games of the season against the top-seeded Little East Conference team, Worcester State. A win in the game would allow the Owls a chance to take the top-seed spot in the Little East Conference.
Butcher said that at the game that took place in the same 1,200 person stadium “you couldn’t get a seat” in in the late 80s. However, the attendance for that game was only 146 people, according to the game information given in the box score for that game on keeneowls.com.
So, why was there ever a change?
Racicot’s theory is that “this generation is a little different.” Racicot said, “I think athletic departments for the most part got caught off guard by that, so they weren’t really allocating a lot of resources to generate more student interest in attending games to support student-athletes.”
Butcher said that he believes it is all related to school spirit.
“School spirit in New England is completely different than school spirit in the southwest, southeast, midwest, the whole bit,” explained Butcher. “There, when they graduate from a college, they are married to that college for life… it seems here when kids graduate they no longer know Keene State exists anymore.”
So, what can be done about this decrease in attendance?
“I think it would take a bunch of interested students [to make a change],” said Butcher. “Now we have Owl Nation, which tries to get [students] involved, but they struggle, too, getting the kids involved in a lot of things.”
Another organization that pushes to try and get student-athletes involved is the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, or SAAC for short. They have an ongoing program for student-athletes called Owls for Owls.
“Owls for Owls is a thing we do in SAAC where sports teams go and support and help other sports teams with games, meets, etc.” explained Zachary Collins, a senior and member of SAAC as well as a captain on the men’s swim and dive team. “It is meant to both support athletes of all sports and get student-athletes involved with watching and helping out if possible.”
Abraham Osheyack, assistant athletic director at Keene State, stated that he believed one way to improve turn out at games is to provide transportation from campus.
“I think one thing that would be helpful would be providing reliable transportation from the main campus out to the athletic fields,” said Osheyack. “I think in the late fall and early spring as the weather is getting colder or is still cold as we resume sports… to offer our students a ride to and from [the athletic complex] if they don’t have their own vehicle.”
So students are now left with a choice.
Getting a seat at Lab n’ Lager or spending an hour and a half at a sports game cheering for their team.
Claire Boughton can be contacted