By Tim Howard | Staff Writer
It’s been a while since my last column appeared, and once again, it involves student participation at athletic events.
This time, though, it’s for a more optimistic reason.
It’s no secret that this season has been somewhat of a letdown for the Augusta Jaguars.
What was once an exciting and surprising start has seen the Jaguars lose some momentum as the postseason gets closer and closer.
At the end of January, the Jaguars had a 12-7 record, including an 8-4 mark in the Peach Belt Conference, and were challenging Lander University at the top of the Peach Belt’s East Division standings.
Since then, the Jaguars have gone 3-3 to fall one game behind Lander with only one game left to play, which is on the road.
But there’s always something good, even when everything else seems like it’s going wrong.
Asides from defeating rival USC Aiken on February 13, which officially knocked the Pacers out of postseason contention, student involvement and overall fan enthusiasm have both returned to Christenberry Fieldhouse.
After a February 3 loss to Georgia College, in which the Jaguars trailed 40-27 at halftime but went on a huge run in the second half to take an eight-point lead with less than eight minutes remaining in the half, I knew that the magic was back.
After forward Deane Williams dunked with 7:28 left in the second half to give Augusta a 66-58 lead, the crowd roared in a way that I haven’t heard for a very long time.
The surprising thing is the attendance that night was less than a thousand.
Only 622 spectators showed up for that night’s game.
But it sounded more like 6,000 people were in the building when Deane slammed that dunk.
The official attendance figure wasn’t what I paid attention to.
It was the enthusiasm shown by each and every one of those people who came in the building that night.
When I got home from the game, I told my roommate that we had lost, but that I was so excited because the crowd was into the game, which was what our team needed at that moment.
Little did I know that this was just the beginning.
The game against USC Aiken served as Homecoming, Senior Day, and our regular season home finale.
But students were the biggest part of the day’s proceedings.
Since both sets of endzone bleachers were added before the 2012-13 season, I had never seen either set of bleachers completely filled – until this game.
It seemed that every fraternity and sorority converged on the bleachers next to our bench.
Combined with our pep band – which cheers whenever they aren’t playing a song – there was a veritable wall of sound on that end of Christenberry, all of it coming from students.
It was exactly what I had hoped for when those bleachers were added.
Sure, most of the students were there to see and support their Homecoming court candidates, and after the results were announced during halftime, many of them left early.
But a good number of them stayed for the second half, which saw Augusta turn a five-point halftime lead into a 16-point win.
And I know that our team fed off of that energy to beat an eternal rival for the third straight time.
In fact, junior point guard Keshun Sherrill said that he didn’t care if “there were 20 people in the stands or 20,000 – I still love playing in this atmosphere.”
It’s easy for me to get frustrated about student involvement, but I really need to applaud student involvement when it’s good.
The student body showed up in droves for this game, which I hope happens every time our Jaguars take the court.
If that happens, we have a chance to make Christenberry Fieldhouse the toughest arena to play at in the country.
All we need is for students to regularly show up like they did for the Aiken game.
Combine that with the community’s potential to embrace the name change and attend games, and Christenberry could truly become a magical place.
As head men’s basketball coach Dip Metress said, “It’s always good to play in front of a good home crowd.”
And who knows what the future holds?
Maybe one day soon, we’ll cram the building to see a national championship trophy party.
Contact Tim Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org.