While most of Charlotte was tuned into the Panthers game yesterday another game was occurring just down the road in Rock Hill. Facing off in the the South Atlantic Conference tournament final game were the men’s soccer teams from Queens University of Charlotte and Wingate University.
I went because I used to work at Queens, but even in the rain and 50 degree weather it was obvious that the passion that our city has for the Panthers can be replicated, if not magnified, by sports on the smaller stage.
Despite my rooting interest for the Royals it was easy to become captivated by a back-and-forth game that featured Wingate playing a man down most of the game, and Queens throwing wave-after-wave of attackers at their opponents. In the end the Bulldogs of Wingate won by the score of 2-0, and a gutted Queens side was left literally lying on the ground in frustration.
While it would be relatively easy to break down the who, what, when, where and why, I believe it is just as important to look at what a game like this means to the people who spent a rainy Sunday in Rock Hill.
Small college athletics is fascinating for the role it serves for so many people. Not only does it give a chance for students to compete as athletes, but it allows students to be engaged as fans. Listening to the sometimes sloppy attempts at cheers made me laugh, but also made me reminisce about when I used to care about my college’s teams like that.
Working in sports makes it easy to detach yourself from the outcome of a game, and I often joke that I now only root for “Team Chaos,” but after this afternoon it is clear to me that this isn’t necessarily the correct way to live life as a fan. Sometimes it is best to to care whether your team wins or loses, and it’s even better when you know who the players are, up close and personal.
This is something that is difficult to achieve with professional sports where the players are performers, and there will always be a wall between them and the spectators. This separation between fan and athlete is something that doesn’t necessarily exist when it comes to small college sports and the more you watch you begin to see the human element of the game.
A perfect example of this is when Wingate won the game one of their players grabbed the logo on his jersey and kissed it. While this may seem ridiculous due to the fact that there were no TV cameras or thousands of fans supporting him — it came off completely different. To my eyes it meant so much more than a simple gesture, instead it was a declaration of allegiance to his university and a signifiant gesture of loyalty.
This is what you see when you go to these games, and I promise you that if you look, moments like this one are replicated each game. As we enter basketball season I recommend you take time and go see one of your local colleges play. Yes, it won’t be the same level of play as the Hornets, but I promise you that you will see so much more of the human element of sports.