Thursday, December 01, 2005

School Spirit

Not, sadly a cocktail (although maybe it should be one - I shall experiment; I'm thinking something with Vermouth in it) but an omnipresent psychological phenomenon amongst American students that is unheard of in England.

Last week was Thanksgiving, the single most profitable part of the year for American airlines as millions of people fly back and forth across the country to spend time with their families eat turkey and give thanks for..... well, I'm not entirely sure. Click Answers for the answer.

The result was a mass exodus of the student population from campus for several days. Not having received many invitations to spend time with people's families (how sad) this left a number of Brits and Aussies with little choice but to get ratted, the result being two unfortunate drunken text messages sent (which i take full responsibilty for, despite having consumed enough belgian lager to stun a mule) and the most evil of hangovers on Thursday morning(/afternoon). Suffice to say, my thankfulness was somewhat repressed that day.

Saturday however, saw Georgetown University Basketball's first home game of the season and I cannot express vehemently enough quite how different the American approach to college sports is to our back home. They take it, to say the least, somewhat seriously.

Personally I know absolutely nothing about Sussex's football team; Occasionally I may glance at the sports results in the Badger but I couldn't tell you where they play, any of the names of the players, whether they're any good or not or even the colour of the shirts. I have certainly never been to see them play and don't know anyone else who has either.

But here college sports is, to use an oft quoted sporting cliché, in a different league. While American Football is not Georgetown's sporting forté - generally the big state school are more successful; check out my good buddy and fellow Sussex-er Mark Wilson's blog for a comprehensive account from UT - but when it comes to B-Ball they're up there with some of the very best in the country.

Firstly, the team doesn't just play in the college gymnasium. Oh no. The Hoya's (for that is their nickname) play in the 15,000 seat downtown arena that is the MCI center. Also known for being where the professional b-ball team The Wizards play and the venue of Michael Jordan's last game before he retired - for the final time, the building is an absolute colossus. Despite the fact that most students were still away for thangsgiving the stadium was at half full. Can you imagine 7,500 people turning out to watch, for example, the Sussex University Nobodies play against the Sheffield It's-Grim-Oop-Norf-ers? Indeed, kinda unlikely.

The game itself was a bizarre experience, particularly for the passion that some of these GU students have for their team, and therefore, for the University itself. it's certainly something that wouldn't be bad to export back to the apathy-ridden campuses of Britain. The support on display that day was, I imagine to a certain extent, alcohol-fueled but still, gotta give credit to the "Hoya Blue" (oh yes, they even have a school spirit organization).

Here we have, for want of a better term, a hymn sheet, informing the uninitiated of the various cheers to be, umm, cheered throughout the course of the game. Hardly Shakespeare (although why I think the works of Shakespeare would be a useful template on which to base chants for a college basketball game I'm not sure) I admit but still pretty impressive. And everybody genuinely shouts them all the way through the game.

I couldn't quite bring myself to join in, personally being more familiar with abusive chants questioning the legitimacy of an opposition player's parentage or the manager's sexual orientation; they are a bit more polite here it seems. I'm also still a tad uncomfortable with pronouncing Defence as DEE-FENCE.

Unlike American football basketball is a seriously exciting game and as I said before, the Georgetown team is pretty good. Sadly not quite good enough on the day though as truly it was a game of two halves. Despite dominating the first, with many a swoosh being heard as they scored three-pointer after three-pointer, and going in ten points in front at the break, they came out in the second half a different side and couldn't hit a thing. I'm not sure I heard anyone say "my granny could do better" but I'm sure it was on the minds of all in attendance.

Ultimately they only lost to Vanderbilt (from Tennessee I believe) by 7 points, which is not terrible but the, given the size of these dudes (the "shorties" on the team being 6ft. 1in) I'm sure they can do better.

The result however, was largely immaterial. What was most interesting to me was the way these kids get behind their team and thus become part of the school itself. We have no such sense of unity back home, and by that I mean in Britain as much as I mean at Sussex. We don't relate to each other on a broader level through our shared experiences; we have no sense of collective identity on any plain beyond our localised social groups; we have no more sense of commonality with a fellow Brit or Sussex student than we do with anyone else.

Why that is, I'm not sure, but it seems like it would be a nice thing to reach towards. People partly hate Americans because they see them as possessing a blind belief in their country beyond that which would be rational, overlooking its failings in the process but maybe we have gone too far in the other direction. I'm not arguing against cynicism; the Americans are not, I think, taught to question authority enough, but sometimes it's not necessarily a bad thing to see good things.


Big C said...

Because in England people don't like students, so we don't go around shouting about it like the Americans, who are somewhat more supportive of those going into higher education.

Also they are too busy trying to get Coke banned to think about fun and their own university.

damo said...

Any particular reason you chose Sheffield for the use of your dig at northerners?
Brighton is full of queens and its biggest attraction is a garish fair ground. But im still happy to admit its a great place.