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Spec­tators watch the vol­leyball team in person for the first time since COVID-19. | Hannah Cote

After almost a year away from the court, Charger fans are finally welcome back in the bleachers to cheer their favorite teams to victory.  

After reviewing the Michigan Department of Health and Human Ser­vices man­dates in late January, the Hillsdale College Ath­letics Department decided to allow a maximum of 250 spec­tators per game in the Dawn Tib­betts Potter Arena for bas­ketball and vol­leyball con­tests. This month, it estab­lished the same rule for track and field meets in the Margot V. Biermann Ath­letic Center. 

The vol­leyball team’s match against Trevecca Nazarene College on Jan. 22 was the first Charger game open to spec­tators under the new guide­lines and it quickly filled every available seat. 

Head coach Chris Gravel said he was excited to see a packed arena after the vol­leyball season was post­poned in the fall. 

“Fans just make it more fun,” Gravel said. “Obvi­ously sports are all about com­peting and trying to better yourself, but to share that expe­rience with the college you are rep­re­senting is espe­cially special.” 

For ath­letes who com­peted in the fall without fans, the return of spec­tators has taken some adjusting. 

“It was def­i­nitely weird to not have fans for the first time this fall,” senior Jaycie Burger, shooting guard and captain of the women’s bas­ketball team, said. “It felt more like a scrimmage without the noise and excitement that fans pro­vided. Since we got used to that, we had to adjust again when the fans came back. We had to make sure our com­mu­ni­cation and signals didn’t get drowned out by fans.” 

Still, Burger said it is much easier to play knowing that she has support from her friends and family on the side­lines. 

Jonathan Burton, a senior line­backer on the football team, said he has never played a game without a crowd cheering him on. 

“The only ref­erence I have for that would be the NFL during COVID when they had card­board cutouts instead of fans,” Burton said. “It felt almost dystopian. While the team is more focused on the game in the heat of the moment, hearing the fans screaming after a big catch is amazing.” 

While he expressed grat­itude that fans will be allowed into games again, Burton said he hopes that the 250-person capacity is increased by March, the start of the post­poned football season, since those events often draw more than 500 spec­tators.  

“Fingers crossed that we are allowed more than 250 people, since we have two big bleachers to fill,” Burton said. “If everyone’s outside with a mask, I can’t see how that would be a problem.” 

Freshman Michael Hoggat said he jumped at the chance to attend his first Chargers game after the unusual dearth in Charger ath­letic events last semester. 

 “It was def­i­nitely one of the missing pieces to student life,” said Hoggat, who attended the vol­leyball team’s 3 – 0 game against Ken­tucky Wes­leyan on Jan. 23. “Basi­cally all of Simpson was there. When you looked around at the crowd, you knew everyone you saw. It made me feel very at home in the crowd.” 

To secure tickets for games, visit https://hillsdale.universitytickets.com 24 hours before the event’s start time. Admission is free for stu­dents with their student ID card and capacity is limited to 250 spec­tators. A certain number of seats will be reserved for fam­ilies of student-ath­letes and coaches, as well as Hillsdale College stu­dents.