When talking about the Ashland University Men’s and Women’s basketball teams, you cannot forget about the support that they constantly get from the community. The students and fans are always selling out Kate’s Gymnasium cheering on their teams. This year, however, things are a little different.
The coronavirus has affected so many things over the last ten plus months and that includes sports. Due to protocol, sporting events have been played without fans in the arenas or stadiums.
It has certainly been a new experience for everybody, not just the players. Dusty Sloan, the Director of Athletic Communications spoke about the importance of fans. “The fans are really the lifeblood of this place, beyond the actual student athletes and coaches,” said Sloan. “We always want to make sure that they have a great experience here just like how we want to make sure that our student athletes have a great experience here.”
The women’s team has not shown on the court how much they miss the fans. The team just finished up its home schedule in the 2021 regular season and ended with a home record of 8-1, the only loss coming on January 22nd in the hands of the Saginaw Valley State Cardinals. Nonetheless, the players would love nothing more than to showcase their talents in front of the fans in the crowd.
With no one in the crowd, the school knew they needed something to make things feel as normal as they possibly could. Multiple sports teams at both the professional and Division One collegiate levels have gone in two directions. Either fake crowd noise being played through the speakers during the games or putting fake fans in the seats, known as cardboard cutouts.
“It still is obviously a different feel with no fans but it does help the sight lines to have those fake fans in the seats,” Dusty said. “We wanted the fans to still be given the opportunity to be a part of the program as much as humanly possible during the pandemic.”
Fans have been able to send in pictures of themselves in Ashland gear and have those photos be placed on cardboard and in the stands at Kate’s Gymnasium.
Ashland chose not to go with the fake crowd noise through the speakers during games. “We realized that just having the visual of the fans being in the crowd is better. When you talk about crowd noise, yes we do not have much and it is not nearly the same as what it used to be but we do provide music during the pregame and halftime and also during timeouts,” said Sloan.
AU has done an excellent job in keeping the fans and the community involved with the teams during a time when the sides can easily feel very distant from each other.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of stress and hard times for many people all over the world but sports do a beautiful job of keeping people sane and allowing them to enjoy things that they did not believe they would be able to enjoy for a long time.