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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Live from I-70 Westbound


Or rather,  “recorded live”, as the old oxymoron goes. I’m on the way back from the mid-Atlantic for Thanksgiving (don’t worry, I’m not behind the wheel). To continue the TV analogy, this will be a clip show of sorts; a few things I had intended to write about at one point or another but never got around to.

-Several weeks ago, I made my way out to a UNCG club lacrosse game. I know a couple of the guys on the team, and I’m a lacrosse fan,  so I had been meaning to make my way out for some time, but only just now got to it. This particular game they were playing App State and were raising funds for the HEADstrong Foundation.

The club scene was a marked but welcome difference from varsity athletics. There was a decent crowd for the intramural field space where they played, and near as I can tell, it was mostly parent and friends of the players, a decent sized contingent from App, and maybe one or two who just longed for live lacrosse—I don’t know if the guy in the O’s shirt and Hopkins hat was related to anyone, but something tells me he’s a fan of the game.

I always enjoy being with people who are watching their first lacrosse game.  I’ve done it a few times, and one of the first reactions is always, “you mean they can hit each other with sticks?!” This rang true for one of the students in the stands, who later added, “I think this is my new favorite sport!” It was an enjoyable enough game, and it was good to se the guys play for at least a bit (I left early for a fraternity meeting). That said,  with all due respect to all the players on the field who played their hearts out, there’s a marked difference between watching club lacrosse in NC and varsity lacrosse in Baltimore.

-Slightly less long ago, I headed west to Winston-Salem to go to the Wake Forest-Florida State football game. My buddy James is an FSU alum and lives in Charlotte, and I told him if he comes up for the game to let me know and I’d come on over. I was rooting for FSU both because I was there with James and because it helped USF’s strength of schedule—in the grand scheme of things SoS was obsolete for us at that point, but  FSU was already having a down year, making our win against them look weak, so I wanted it bolstered for perception’s sake.

It was a noon game so we hit the lot at around 10 in the morning.  There was a decent FSU contingent there—so much so that James was unable to get tickets through his alumni association and had to buy them through Wake, though our seats in the stadium were still pretty strongly in garnet and gold territory. Maybe it was just the lot we were in, but it seemed the FSU folks were much heavier in the tailgate lot than the Wake folks were. It could be a function of FSU having a stronger football tradition than Wake, or, more broadly, Florida having a stronger football tradition than NC, but the Noles fans came to play. The Noles did the same on the field as well, leaving Winston with a win. The Marching Chiefs, however, did not show up. Wake’s band made a decent showing in the stands, but they committed a cardinal offense on the field: Their show was Spring and Summer (I learned later that they actually did all four seasons, but likely curtailed it because it was senior day and introducing all of the band seniors  cut into their time) and they played several pieces fitting the theme, including Appalachian Spring, Summer of ’69, and School’s Out for Summer. They had announced DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s Summertime among the lineup; them playing that consisted not of a band arrangement, but PUSHING PLAY on some sort of playback device and pumping it over the loudspeakers. Seriously?! Not even Hopkins has lobbied for that yet!!

Wake did have a couple of cool traditions. In one endzone is a grass hill known as “Deacon Hill” where spectators can sit out on the hill and watch the game. As we were preparing to leave the game, the announcer game over the loudspeaker to remind folks that anyone who came down onto the field would still need to leave through the stands. James and I both looked at each other to be sure we heard that right, and one of the security guards confirmed for us: They do invite fans down onto the field following each game. This isn’t hop the gate and risk the tasers, this is open invite. I thought that was really cool—the fans are not the enemy to be separated from the teams, but rather a group to be embraced. I don’t know if this is a function of them being a private school, or a smaller school, or in a not-particularly-football-mad area, but this certainly wouldn’t work in some of the more football-mad stadiums.

-Last Friday, UNCG men’s basketball began their home slate and with it their first season in the Greensboro Coliseum. We opened with Clemson, one of four ACC squads who will be visiting the Spartans this season and one of the six on the schedule for this year.

The student scene was electric, at least leading up to the game. In my campus programming capacity, I worked on the Basketball Kickoff Party, a campus tradition in its fourth year which was in transition as well with the move to the Coliseum. It went extremely well, and featured performances from the cheerleaders, dance team, and pep band—all affiliated with UNCG athletics—and Spartan Force Marching Band, a student organization that functions as an independent marching band in an HBCU style.

The atmosphere outside was no less vibrant. Last February 5, when UNCG played a one-off at the Coliseum, and student organizations made the most out of the opportunity to tailgate, despite the weather being below freezing. On a much more manageable November day, they were once again out in force. I only made a couple passes through the tailgate log, but it seemed that good times were had by all. The only problem? Some didn’t make it to the game in time. Still, when all was said and done, the student section was over 2,000 strong—more than student capacity for our entire on-campus gym—and I hope showing up is a tradition that continues in a big way.
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