I just witnessed one of the most competitive, exciting, action-packed girls basketball games I have seen in a long time. On Saturday, the class 3A second-ranked Norwell Knights got a three-point basket from freshman Hannah Smith at the buzzer for a 63-60 win over their conference rival, 4A 13th-ranked Homestead. Norwell students rushed the floor to celebrate with the home team as the horn blared.
Or should I say “student”?
Despite two teams fighting to the finish in a game that likely will go a long way toward determining the Northeast Hoosier Conference championship, very few students were in attendance. Other than members of Norwell's pep band and JV players sitting behind the team, you may have been able to count on your two hands the number of students who actually bought a ticket. Homestead had even fewer.
This isn't an isolated case. Students just aren't showing up in big numbers. At some schools, they hardly show up at all.
Is it the price? For a long time, games used to cost $4, then $5, now $6. There's no discount for students. With a 20-game schedule for boys and girls, a season's worth of games could add up to well over $110 in ticket costs. Throw in popcorn and a cold drink, and it can cost 10 bucks or more to cheer on the home team. Is it too much?
Almost every entertainment or sports event offers discounts to students and children. Would this idea work for high school basketball? Could it be implemented? With revenue sharing in some conferences, all the schools would need to agree to the same structure. Some schools are being supported by the students and may not want to lose revenue by discounting tickets they are already selling. For others, it may help.
Is it a lack of school spirit? Weekly Friday-afternoon pep rallies are a thing of the past. With government guidelines on class structure, there just isn't the time to have pep rallies on a regular basis. What used to be a source of school pride doesn't seem to matter much anymore.
Are there more options now besides attending the game? Movies, work and even computer gaming now occupy much of students' schedules. Is a night alone on the PlayStation more appealing and exciting than a night at a basketball game?
Finally, is a high school basketball game as much fun as it used to be? The “show” that is a varsity basketball game isn't the same as when we were in school. Pep bands at many schools play for only a few of the select home games. Teams that used to charge out to the blaring of the school song now unceremoniously dribble out for warm-ups when the floor sweeper is done. There's a reason the Komets, TinCaps and Mad Ants have mascots, and most of their games have entertainment besides the game itself. It's the whole package.
Schools should produce an event every night there's a home game. Let either the high school or middle school students line the floor for high-fives when the team comes out for warmups. Make starting lineups something to remember…music, choreography, etc. The T-shirt toss is nice, but come on. Create an environment that sells the game as something bigger than it really is. It works. It's called marketing and promotions. Remember when the “in crowd” was the students who attended the games? Using promotions can make the games the “in” thing again. It's imperative to the bottom line. Make it an event, not just a game.
I wish I could point to one thing that has resulted in the decline in student attendance. I think there are many factors, probably more than the ones I've listed.
This Friday, the SAC starts its girls and boys varsity doubleheaders. The ticket is two for the price of one. I hope students and parents respond to the new schedule. I hope gyms are more full than empty, and students bring the energy and support that should be a part of every high school basketball game.
The sad part of this? The students are missing out. A few hours, jammed together in the gym, can create bonds and friendships that last a lifetime. But they're also missing out on some exciting basketball.
Like the game that was played Saturday.