Over a thousand people pack Woolsey Hall at 11:59 p.m. each Halloween. Many more stand shivering in the stands of Harvard Stadium every other November while watching The Game. Hundreds of students run singing across campus each September, tapping different freshmen into the ranks of their a cappella groups.
On these occasions, school spirit seems to abound at Yale. Yet despite such high levels of spirit at these specific, hyped-up events, many Yalies find that spirit on a more day–to-day basis still has room for improvement.
If the Yale-Harvard game is any evidence of school spirit, Yalies are natural born cheerleaders. Indeed, even before the game itself, an increased level of enthusiasm can be felt on campus. Students sell t-shirts, shot glasses and sweatpants in the Commons rotunda. And these are not just any school paraphernalia; they are specific “Game” t-shirts with slogans like “Harvard Students, Princeton Boys, Yale MEN”, “Huck Farvard” and “Veri-Dum.”
Students plan for The Game weeks in advance, either organizing their living arrangements at Harvard or figuring out how best to house their Harvard friends in New Haven. The question of whether or not one is going to The Game seems to be a question not worth asking. Several students taking an International Studies class with Professor Charles Hill recalled him saying that going to Yale and not going to The Game is “like going to Hawaii and not going to the beach.”
And The Game itself proves to be the ultimate haven for school spirit. Perhaps slightly invigorated by the early morning tailgates, students are bursting with spirit by the time the game begins. Students cheer in the stands, and the Yale Precision Marching Band keeps the level of energy high throughout.
Yet such spirit and school pride are not displayed to nearly as extensive a degree at most other athletic events. There is also a discrepancy between the amount of spirit present at different sporting events. While men’s basketball, hockey and football tend to draw large crowds, track, swimming and squash tend to attract significantly smaller ones. The discrepancy of support between male and female teams is also quite large.
But above all, spirit is most largely influenced by the importance of the game. Close to 100 Yalies trekked to the University of Connecticut Monday night to watch the Bulldogs-Huskies basketball game. Yet this is not necessarily the case at all basketball games, especially away games within a reasonable traveling distance.
Band member Christopher Ferraro ’06 said only larger-scale events draw large crowds.
“I do think that we need more spirit,” Ferraro said. “The spirit is only there when there’s a big game.”
Tre Borden ’06 took this need for more school spirit into his own hands earlier this year when he founded the Blue Bloods, a group designed to increase athletic spirit. Coming from a high school where everyone came out to the games to support their teams, Borden said he was disappointed when he realized students at Yale seemed to feel that they had to have a reason to go to games.
“Here, sports are the last thing on everyone’s minds,” Borden said. “You have to have a reason to go to a game. It’s not even close to a given.”
Borden said he also believes part of the problem stems from the fact that Yale is not necessarily known for its sports teams. He said because people assume Yale sports teams will not do well, they do not feel the need to come to the games. On the other hand, he said that because Yale theater has such an outstanding reputation, it seems to have a guaranteed audience.
“Theater has intrinsic support because it’s supposed to be good,” Borden said.
Spirit at Yale is not confined to athletic fields alone. At 11:59 Oct. 31, students filed into Woolsey Hall to wait for the annual Yale Symphony Orchestra Halloween performance. Such an event is a tradition at Yale; like The Game, it is virtually assumed that people will attend. This year, when Yale President Richard Levin spoke, students cheered enthusiastically and many said they sensed a definite Yale spirit in the air.
“It’s exceptional,” he said. “There’s a huge amount of loyalty to Yale. Even [among] the people who criticize Yale, most wouldn’t trade it for another school.”
Levin is not the only one who thinks that school spirit is alive and kicking; some students agree with him. One junior member of the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon said he devotes much of his time to school spirit, so much time, in fact, that he does not want to reveal his identity. This student, affectionately known as “Captain Freedom,” attends the majority of men’s home hockey games fully decked in a red, white and blue costume.
According to tradition, every four years, a senior DKE fraternity member appoints a freshman to become “Captain Freedom.” This appointee must then become “Yale’s most avid hockey fan” for the next four years.
The current Captain Freedom said he could not have been happier when he found out he had been chosen.
“Words cannot express the emotion I felt at that moment,” Captain Freedom said.
Captain Freedom also said he did not believe Yale is lacking in spirit. Although he recognizes that Yale clearly has a smaller undergraduate population than many state schools known for their spirit, he said, he believes Yale spirit is still quite strong.
“It epitomizes the age-old saying, ‘quality over quantity,'” Captain Freedom said.