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View of Nationals Park in Wash­ington, D.C. | Wiki­media Commons

Last week, Matthew Spalding, pro­fessor of States­manship and Public Policy, began class at the Kirby Center as he usually did by asking the stu­dents if any­thing important had hap­pened that day. One student men­tioned an incident with former Vice Pres­ident Joe Biden. Another brought up some recent Capitol Hill drama.

Spalding, who also serves as vice pres­ident of Hilldale’s Wash­ington D.C. oper­a­tions and dean of the Van Andel Graduate School of Gov­ernment, nodded politely and waited for the class to quiet again. Thinking we had covered every­thing important there was to cover in D.C., the class turned to him for comment.

Instead, he asked a question: “And as far as we know, Strasburg is pitching tonight, right?”

He was. And that night, Stephen Strasburg and the Wash­ington Nationals won the sixth game of the World Series against the Houston Astros. A day later, they were crowned World Series Cham­pions.

A bona-fide his­toric run of improb­a­bility, with 7th-inning heroics and Baby Shark chants, the Nationals’ journey from a mid­dling 19 – 31 club to the best team in baseball had made them the District’s darling, deliv­ering the first MLB title to the nation’s capital since 1924.

In a town as divisive as Wash­ington, the way October baseball united people was truly remarkable. By day, Left and Right yelled at each other about impeachment, Syria, and the like. By night, they were high-fiving with a hearty “Go Nats!”

On the Wash­ington-Hillsdale Internship Program this semester, I got a front-row seat to watch the power of sports play out in a political town — as well as an occa­sional back-row seat to watch inside the stadium.

Most sports fans are familiar with this power. It’s fairly cut and dry on a certain level. We like to win, we hate to lose, and we love to be great. Cheering on the home team fuels our com­pet­itive drive and gives us a black-and-white recess from an extra­or­di­narily gray world. It’s also plain fun.

But sports do some­thing more.

There is a meta­physic to ath­letic com­pe­tition which is a bit tricky to put into words — only an athlete or life-long fanatic could probably get close. Three simple ideas come to mind: unity, loyalty, and courage.

In United States history, there have never been more people gathered together, united in purpose, than the roughly 5 million people who attended the Chicago Cubs’ parade in 2016, after winning their first World Series in 108 years. An average Philadelphia Eagles fan could probably rattle off the team’s entire wide-receiver corps before he could name his dis­trict rep­re­sen­tative in Con­gress. You wouldn’t be sur­prised to find yourself hugging the stranger next to you after your team hits a last-second three pointer to win the NBA Finals. But you’d be a little embar­rassed if you were doing that after the 6 o’clock news.

It’s sad to say, but this semester in Wash­ington, D.C. is the first time I’ve felt the fervor of being with and among an electric fanbase.

There is cer­tainly not fervor for Hillsdale’s college ath­letics.

There’s one obvious answer for that. The Nationals are a pro­fes­sional team, and they did just win the biggest trophy in baseball. But I think there are a few more subtle reasons why Hillsdale ath­letics don’t enjoy wild pop­u­larity on campus.

Heavy class loads make it hard for most stu­dents to attend home games reg­u­larly, and even those that do have time choose to spend it in other ways. Stu­dents already loyal to a Division I team are gen­erally less enthu­si­astic about Division II sports. Most Michigan fans on campus would rather see Har­baugh hoist the College Football Playoff trophy than they would the Chargers make a deep playoff run.

None of this is out­ra­geous or even unrea­sonable. We spend time on what we care about, and at a school of Hillsdale’s caliber, that gen­erally means long hours in the library, practice ses­sions in Howard, or lec­tures, debates, and round-tables in Phillips. Throw in club meetings, vol­unteer com­mit­ments, and dorm or Greek events, and you’ll begin to see how showing up to a Thursday night Chargers bas­ketball game can get pretty tough, pretty quickly.

Hillsdale isn’t com­peting for world titles, and the energy I felt at the Nationals’ World Series parade, which nearly one million fans attended, isn’t likely to happen at a school with an enrollment of about 1500.

Strength in numbers is an axiom which holds true even in the sports world. At a small, liberal-arts college, where stu­dents gen­erally pri­or­itize their classes over their home team, much of the team-spirit problem is natural and unavoidable.

This doesn’t mean that the problem can’t be solved.

Though few in number, we can be great in spirit. Cities like Wash­ington, and teams like the Nationals, do not and must not have a monopoly on the power of com­munity built through sports.

Imagine if each of us embraced at least one Charger team, fol­lowing its season and getting to know its players. How much more love for our school, for our class­mates, and for this season of life would we have? We shouldn’t forget that there is more to the liberal-arts edu­cation than books. A strong team spirit ener­gizes campus life, strengthens com­munity, and creates oppor­tu­nities for rela­tion­ships to thrive.

After watching, embracing, and cel­e­brating a his­toric Wash­ington, D.C. ball club, and after feeling an infi­nitely closer con­nection to the city and its people as a result, I can con­fi­dently say that the choice to become a Hillsdale College fan will make me a better Hillsdale College student.

I do think the two are dis­tinct, student and fan, and it seems to me that many of us are proud to be the one but have neglected to be the other. Let’s not make that mistake any longer.
For whichever col­le­giate sport you love, make the Hillsdale Chargers your team. You have the rest of your life to don whatever colors you’d like, so choose blue and white while you can.

Austin Mock is a junior studying inter­na­tional studies.