Wildcat athletics deserve more of your support

Ray Bressette

This past weekend, the NMU hockey team entertained a lively crowd with a dominating 4-1 win over their arch rival Michigan Tech Huskies on Friday, Oct. 23 in a packed Berry Events Center. The arena was well over it’s 3,800 approximate capacity with a listed attendance of 4,260 fans cheering on a crucial win in the Wildcats’ early season.re-unnamed

The problem is, a sellout crowd or one close to an arena’s maximum capacity, has been a rarity the past few seasons during sporting events here at NMU outside of games against Tech.

As a Marquette native, I have been going to NMU hockey, basketball and football games my whole life, and I can honestly say the attendance and support from the crowds is not nearly as good as it used to be.

When looking solely at the four teams that are generally most popular on college campuses, football, women’s and men’s basketball as well as hockey, it’s clear that there is room for more fans to show up and support their Wildcats than what they are receiving, especially compared to our rival Tech in Houghton.

Our hockey team saw attendance reach nearly 3,000 fans during the 2009-10 season, but struggled to come close to even reach 2,200 fans on average for both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.

Meanwhile in Houghton, the Huskies averaged 3,072 fans last season.

It’s been five years since our hockey team reached the NCAA tournament, but with a junior core that’s been successful their first two years as well as a senior goalie in Mathias Dahlstrom, who receives national recognition, should give fans hope for this season. We have a head coach in Walt Kyle who has been there and done that in the NCAA tournament, bringing this club to the tournament before and was also a member of the 1991 NCAA champion coaching staff for NMU.

On top of that, hockey is our only Division I sport on campus, and with it being in a hockey-driven U.P. there should be a much higher turnout at the Berry Events Center on the weekends.

The football team is in the midst of probably achieving their first winning season in six years, yet attendance at the Superior Dome for their games is on pace to drop from last year’s unimpressive average of 3,111 fans per game who were watching a team that finished the season 3-8. Through their first five of six home games this season, the average attendance numbers have dropped to 2,711 fans watching the game, with numbers dropping each game.

The NMU football team is seemingly turning the corner on their decades of losing, yet fans are not acknowledging the change.

We are only a year removed from the women’s basketball team’s 2014 GLIAC championship, but the defending champs only saw the support of 349 fans on average per game last season. Many of the players who led the team to a successful run to their last four straight GLIAC tournament appearances have graduated and moved on, but the winning philosophy has recruited talent to carry the torch for the team moving forward.

The Huskies’ women have been equally successful in that time earning a conference title of their own, but they’ve been able to attract an average of 865 fans a game. The women’s basketball team has earned the right to receive as much support from fans as anyone else on campus.

Staying on the same court, our athletic department knew three years ago that a change needed to be made for the men’s basketball team to earn its first winning season since 2006 when they began a national search to fill the head coaching role.

They ended up bringing in as good of a Division II coach as you will find in Bill Sall, who left Ferris State after 11 seasons with the Bulldogs where he brought his team to four division titles and three NCAA tournament appearances. And while his team is still working toward achieving their first winning season in nearly a decade, the improvement in attitude and quality of play Sall has brought to NMU gives little doubt that a championship banner will be hanging from the Berry Events Center once again.

If you have never attended a sporting event at NMU, you are truly missing out on a crucial part of a college experience.

And as a student at NMU, your price for admission to all regular season home games is included in your tuition, leaving you to pay nothing more at the door. If you don’t attend the game, you are paying not to go to the game.

Our athletes, coaches and sports adminstrators are doing their part at building successful sports programs on campus. Now it’s your turn to come and show your support.