How the pump-up around football will change campus (for the better)

UBC is famous for a lot of things – a beautiful campus, world-class research facilities and diverse student body to name a few. But overwhelming school spirit isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of UBC.

The triple threat of David Sidoo, Robert Morton and Aaron Bailey plan to change this, starting with entrenching Thunderbird football at the heart of campus life.

Morton is the founder and director of The Calendar, UBC's biggest event-planning group. “We’ve learned as a campus how to do these big ‘rah-rah’ school spirit events,” said Morton of the new initiative. “We know what it looks like, we know how to come out to it and we know that we want it.”

It’s not for lack of enthusiasm at UBC that results in lagging school spirit, argues David Sidoo, just few opportunities to express it.

“You don’t have to look too far … to see what students want,” said Sidoo, ex-Thunderbirds football player, UBC Board of Governors member and businessman. “[It’s] very simple. Students want to have a great pre-party, a great experience at the game and a winning team.”

So how does this translate into increased school spirit off the football pitch? The motive behind the pump-up before each Thunderbirds home football game is equally simple — more connection between students.

For Sidoo, this means putting a face to the athletes on campus for students and getting them involved in the sport. “[Students] do parties at their fraternities, sororities and clubs before the game like every other school across the country. They do their tailgates and all march to the game … that’s what kids do, that’s how they connect.”

Aaron Bailey, AMS president, sees this going beyond just a connection between students and athletics on campus and instead connecting students to their campus as a whole. “I think overall, whether you actually like the sports or [not] ... the fact that we all go to UBC is the one unifying thing for a lot of people,” said Bailey. “So Athletics can be that tying point because you come together under one banner.”

Sidoo noted that having both Bailey and Morton involved in the push to place athletics at the centre of campus was a major part of why homecoming and the Thunderbirds’ football season this year has been so popular.

“A lot of what we’ve been doing is, ‘Yes, students would like that. No, students wouldn’t like this. How about we try this? How about we push a little here?’ We’ve been acting as connector pieces,” said Bailey. With their combined interpersonal relationships with the various clubs and societies on campus, the AMS and Calendar folk working together with the business acumen of Sidoo and Athletics can connect a lot of people.

“Athletics can be that tying point because you come together under one banner.”

— Aaron Bailey

It’s been paying off. Compared to last year’s numbers, 4,245 came to Homecoming 2014 versus almost 7,000 in 2015, but what’s more telling was the 3,000 fans at the second game of this year – a near-record breaking high. Getting the right people who are able to engage groups from all across an extremely diverse campus is worth it. “The biggest thing … this year is momentum from last year, learning from our mistakes [and] doing it bigger,” said Morton. “We’ve also been a bit more organized with reaching out to other organizations.”

Sidoo and Bailey, for their parts, both noted that an easy way to tell there's been an effect is the increased number of people wearing Thunderbird clothing around campus. Their tangible focus is football, but the effects can be seen in much broader ways.

Questions have arisen over why the emphasis on football, when UBC has much more reliably successful teams in its varsity athletic roster – men's soccer and the swim team are both winners.

“We focused on football in first semester because it’s almost like a romantic college experience,” said Morton. “There’s four games which is a nice thing that people can commit to. [It's] enough that you can follow them and move from just being excited about school spirit and school in general … to be excited about the game and following the team through the season.”

Bailey agrees. “If you look at other big schools, the sport culture in most universities and colleges starts with football and then spreads out to other things because it just has this kind of collegial, varsity feel to it.”

He hopes to focus on a different sport after the football season is over as well as highlighting a female varsity team such as women’s volleyball or field hockey.

There's been a noticeable increase in blue and gold on campus this year. File photo Koby Michaels / The Ubyssey

The success of Homecoming 2015 and the subsequent popularity of the following games was worth it for everyone involved. “Some of the comments were, ‘When’s the next football game?’ … ‘I’ve never felt this connected to the university in my entire life, I’m a third-year student. I’ve never seen anything like this,’” said Sidoo. “That just warmed our hearts [and] all the people who worked together on this.”

The organizers hope the momentum won’t stop there.

“We want homecoming to sell out and be a campus holiday, if you will, where it’s a day that people look forward to and know that’s happening,” said Morton. “Even if you’re not necessarily a football fan, you’re excited about your school and you’re wearing all your colours. Then people still become football fans because they’re like, ‘Oh, this is actually really fun. Oh, we’re winning. Let’s do it again,’ kind of thing.’”

The biggest motivation to inject energy, knowledge and money, or what David Sidoo calls the “three Ts” of time, talent and treasure, is the lasting effect this will have on the university as a whole.

“We’re hoping the campus transitions itself from a campus where … students feel that they’re not connected … to a campus that continues to push the academic excellence. But, at the same time, we create this sense of community, belonging, and ‘I want to be a Thunderbird,’” said Sidoo.

The goal is to transmit that sense of community into a longterm fixture on UBC campus.

For now, student groups across the university are just happy having a great time cheering on the T-Birds. “It’s nice to finally have people who care about sports,” said Bailey. “I think it’s paying off, which is cool.”

File photo: Kosta Prodanovic, The Ubyssey

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The 13th Man Foundation is not affiliated with UBC and is a separate and independent legal entity that sets its own fundraising priorities.