When the No. 3 ranked girls basketball team in the state pays a visit to the No. 10 team in the state, the expectation is students from both schools would turn out in force.
They did not.
Last week, No. 3 Staples and No. 10 Stamford played in front of a crowd at Stamford’s Kuczo Gymnasium mainly consisting of family members.
There were no students chanting “we believe we will win,” or “airball!” In fact, there were not students chanting anything.
It was a similar turnout when the No. 1 team in the state, Notre Dame-Fairfield, traveled to play SWC rival and then No. 2 Newtown about a month earlier.
Fans did nearly fill the bleachers in the Newtown gymnasium, but the crowd was mostly adult family members, teachers and more adults who are fans of girls basketball.
There were some students in attendance, but there was not a student section to be found.
It is true at gyms across the state, that girls basketball teams have a hard time drawing student fans, even when they are winning.
But not everywhere.
Some schools are bucking the trend and drawing students to games either through doubleheaders with the boys, offering free admission or just good old-fashioned self-promotion.
Still, there is a long way to go to catch up with the boys.
Imagine if the No. 1 and No. 2 boys basketball teams in the state played and virtually no students turned up?
“It’s a little frustrating not having other students at our games. We put in so much time and we have been pretty good, this year,” Staples senior Arianna Gerig said. “It is a game changer when you have a fan section and you see people from your own school coming out and supporting you. It can really turn around a game. We are so good, which we haven’t been in the past, but it can be tough motivating people to come.”
It is not a new concept, with fans generally waiting until a team is deep into a postseason run before coming out to show support.
“Hey, if we keep winning, they’ll eventually show up,” Gerig said “Tournament time, they have to come.”
In Fairfield County, it is common to walk into a gym during a girls game and see no student support, despite the county having some of the top teams in Connecticut.
It is no different across the state, where the No. 5 Norwich Free Academy girls team is also struggling to get students out, despite their success.
“We have unbelievable support from the families and the city of Norwich. The student section is really great for the boys games, which is awesome,” NFA coach Courtney Gomez said. “We don’t get as many students at our games. I hope that changes as we head into the tournament. The girls are very well supported by their parents and families and a lot of teachers and administrators who come to their games. I think that is special to them.”
In other parts of the state, things are changing, but it takes effort on the part of the players and coaches to bring fans in.
After a call was put out on Twitter, Simsbury and Wethersfield in the CCC, Seymour in the NVL and Bacon Academy and Killingly in the ECC all responded with pictures of large student sections at girls basketball games.
Not that getting those sections filled was easy, but they are doing it.
Wethersfield coach Jeffrey Russell does all he can trying to get students out to see his 15-4 team.
Russell creates digital posters for each game, which he posts to the team’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. He also shares them with the school administration to post on TVs throughout the school, and with the school’s technology department, which they post to various school social media pages.
Russell and the players also go about it the old-fashioned way, encouraging students face-to-face in the school on gamedays to come out and watch.
Also, with the support of the team’s booster club, they have been able to offer free admission for Wethersfield students to all Friday games.
“It means everything to our team to have great crowds. We believe it’s given us the edge in multiple home games this year,” Russell said. “Most of the gyms we play in are quiet, you mostly just hear parents yelling and cheering. Our gym is loud, with fan excitement throughout the game. I think that makes it tough for other teams who aren’t necessarily used to this type of environment.”
Russell admits that the winning record of the team the past few seasons, definitely helps.
“We’ve been fortunate this year to have a team that’s experiencing a little bit of success and I think our fans have been enjoying our games,” he said. “I do think it’s way more than the success of a team that draws the crowd though.”
Crowds in the Shoreline Conference can be scant by virtue of the smaller school sizes, but at Morgan students have been coming out to support the 13-5 squad.
“Having the students come out and support us at our games means a great deal to our team,” Morgan coach Caitlin Woods said. “There is no question that the energy of the crowd can help boost us on the court. It’s great to have that positive atmosphere, and it enhances the fun of the game. Promoting your team on multiple platforms, naming fans of the game, fundraisers, and creating competitions or themes incentivize students to attend games. Of course, winning helps too.”
Along with self-promotion, doubleheaders with the boys teams for rivalry games has also proven to bring large crowds to the girls games.
Ludlowe and Warde, Stamford and Westhill and Trumbull and St. Joseph all annually play boy-girl doubleheaders and all draw massive crowds.
Trumbull and St. Joseph routinely sell out Alumni Hall at Fairfield University with their doubleheaders, which also serve as fundraisers for the Coaches vs Cancer cause.
“The St. Joe’s vs. Trumbull hoop rivalry is a terrific town event that has become so much more than the battle on the court, as the two schools have come together to raise money toward the battle against cancer.” Trumbull coach Steve Tobitsch said. “Every year this is an exciting event for the student athletes from both schools. The girls teams enjoyed playing in front of a large crowd that night and we hope to see more crowds like that in the high school gyms as the regular season concludes and the postseason begins. The girls teams certainly appreciated the student body support. We have some terrific girls’ high school hoop teams across the state and they deserve the recognition for all the hours of hard work, practice and preparation that goes into being a student-athlete.”
The push for more fans is coming during a time when girls basketball in the state is arguably better than it has ever been, in part thanks to more girls playing in the offseason and more advanced training methods available.
“It is good basketball,” Gomez said. “Not just high school, but the women’s game is taking off. You have so many amazing women’s athletes in the college game and the WNBA.
“I don’t know what the answer is when it comes to getting students out for girls games?” Gomez said. “I keep telling them to keep winning, and keep grinding, and keep proving to them that you are worth seeing. Be proud of that.”