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.