By Peter Sowards
A two-person sofa reserved for only the most diehard Eagles basketball fans occupies a small section of bench seating at Reese Court, located on the opposite side of the players and coaches and just a few feet from the hardwood.
Naturally, that is where student athletes Allison Doerpinghaus and Kellen Barfield can be found on a regular basis, cheering on the Eagles and clad in EWU red and white.
Doerpinghaus, a freshman middle blocker on the Eagles’ volleyball team, is a member of Flight Club, a newly-minted student organization dedicated to increasing excitement in Eastern basketball. “I’ve been to every single one, all the home games,” Doerpinghaus said. Barfield, a redshirt freshman who also plays middle blocker, said she has been to all but two home games. “We love it when the girls come to our games and so [we are] coming to theirs. It’s just showing support and it’s fun,” Barfield said.
Student athletes supporting fellow student athletes is not a rare occurrence at basketball games. Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams and women’s point guard Kylie Huerta enjoyed a game of E-A-G-L-E—as opposed to the traditional H-O-R-S-E—on the floor after the men’s team defeated Portland State 76-65 on Jan. 28. For Adams, encouraging other EWU athletes is paramount. “It helps a lot,” Adams said.
Adams said he comes to as many basketball games as possible and has attended soccer games and volleyball matches as well. Missing from his attendance record is hockey, an omission he hopes to alleviate soon. “I’ve got friends on the basketball and soccer teams,” he said. “I just need get some friends on the hockey team.
“Getting support from other athletes [and] seeing that they care is huge. You’re going to their games, they’re coming to your games, cheering them on, giving them support.”
In terms of attendance, however, support is something the women’s basketball team is not getting, despite having a winning record and ranking third in the Big Sky Conference. According to the Big Sky’s website, women’s games draw an average of just 441 attendees per contest, the third-worst mark in the league. Montana, in contrast, leads the association by a wide margin with an average 3,149 fans.
Track and field events struggle to draw viewers as well. Steven Warner, a senior who specializes in hurdles and sprints, said the promotion and resulting attendance of non-football sporting events can be “hit or miss.” “I think sometimes everyone doesn’t necessarily get the word,” Warner said. “We put up posters … in dorms, but sometimes it’s hard for people to know.”
Warner played football in addition to track in high school and said it is weird going from a spectator sport like football to track where the crowds are much smaller. Nevertheless, Warner frequents an array of EWU sporting events and feels an obligation to do so. “I think it’s almost part of our job, supporting our other student athletes,” Warner said. “They go through exactly what we go through. I like to make sure girls basketball or anybody—soccer, football, tennis, everybody—gets a little bit of love.”
To increase attendance and awareness of track meets and volleyball matches, Barfield suggested a countdown clock on goeags.com for those sports as well as for football and basketball. Warner creates Facebook events for upcoming meets and invites all of friends to attend.
“For most of the kids it’s maybe a five minute walk out of their dorms,” Warner said. “You can’t really replicate those experiences.
“You never know if you could be the voice that’s going to get one of your teams through something.”