Examining Uni’s sports culture as fans return to fall sporting events

Uni’s fall sports – cross country, boys soccer, girls volleyball, and girls swimming – have been kicked into full gear at the start of the in-person school once again as students returned to their athletic activities. 

Along with the return of student-athletes, the resurgence of in-person sporting seasons signifies the resurgence (or lack thereof) of sports fans – students, teachers, and parents – that attend games and support their friends and classmates as they compete.

The return of fans also brings into question the sports culture at Uni. 

One part of the sports culture examines the fan attendance at games. While Uni’s smaller student population and rigorous coursework might mean a smaller number of possible fans at games and meets in comparison to bigger schools, Uni’s community makes itself known in the bleachers.

Many students and teachers highlight the importance of fans coming out to support their friends, peers, and – for teachers –  students. 

Math teacher Kaila Simpson speaks to the significance of cheering on her students as a teacher and relates the experience to her time at Uni as a student-athlete. 

“It’s nostalgic. It reminds me of my time on the sports team, and I know that when I was playing, I always wished that I had more than just my parents there to support me,” Simpson says. “I just wanted to make sure that I can bring that energy to them. I know that when there are people on the sidelines bringing good energy, [the players] will have more energy for their teams.” 

Simpson also adds, “When the teachers came to my sports game, it just made me feel like I was seen in class – that I was more than just a student. That’s what’s so special to me.”

Kara Mathias, junior cross-country runner, corroborates Simpson’s thoughts, saying how those fans empower her and her teammates to run faster. 

“I think that for cross-country, when we have fans cheering us on… we feel an adrenaline rush and we’ll start going faster,” Mathias says. 

Another element of the sports culture signifies the simple experience of attending these events and games. 

Knox Mynatt, sophomore cross-country runner, mentions how he and others still dedicate time to go to sporting events, such as volleyball games, despite having practice and homework.

“Without going to them, I don’t know what I’m missing out on,” Mynatt says.  “There’s time during the day to get work done and you have to take advantage of that, so as long as I’m taking advantage of it, I’ll go to an event. I never regret going to an event. It’s always a good experience.

Simpson also says how, in addition to her love of sports, attending events helps her connect with the student body: “I show up because I like watching sports too, [but] it also helps me connect names to faces. Whenever there’s a cross country meet, I’m always like ‘who’s that?’ and then I remember them in classes.” 

Karl Radnitzer, Uni’s assistant director, mentions how he notifies himself of events and that going to these events, sports or not, is a part of seeing people succeed outside the academic environment.

“When I get the schedule from [Mr. Bicknell], I put [the dates] in my own personal calendar, kind of my afternoon calendar – I don’t put school stuff in there,” Radnitzer says. “I try to get to as many sporting events, theater [events], and musicals that I can because I think that’s part of seeing the whole child… I might not be able to stay for the whole game, but it’s just part of my understanding of what school’s about. It’s not just academics. It’s everything else that goes on in a kid’s life that’s important.” 

Uni’s sport culture may differ from other schools as Uni does not have a football team or a cheerleading squad – things that other high schools may have.

“There’s some days where I wish we had like bigger sports teams, or the capabilities of having bigger sports teams, but I know since we are a smaller school, we can’t necessarily do that,” Mynatt notes. “That also kind of puts us at a disadvantage for getting a big crowd together because people are going home, getting work done, and then going to sleep because it’s Uni. We got work to do… it’s a bit disappointing to see maybe four people I know at the game and it’s just us clumped together in the bleachers and that’s it.”

However, students (including athletes) and teachers still enjoy the environment and think that the uniqueness of the culture at Uni makes the school special.

Mathias brings up her appreciation for the support fans at Uni give after her races: “Usually after, when the fans say, ‘Good job Kara! That was a great race,” that really hypes you up, and even if you had a bad race, it makes you think, ‘I did well. People saw me, and they think I did well.’”

Mynatt mentions how that vibrant sports environment shows up even in the hallways.

“Being a smaller school, it’s more tight-knit… You have the dress-up days that people do for teams, you and see them in the hallway. It’s all around. Every day. That’s what really makes us unique,” Mynatt says. “The fact that everyone is close together, so everyone knows when a game is – what day, what’s happening, who we’re playing. It’s all really just interconnected into daily life.”

Finally, Radnitzer highlights how Uni’s sporting culture gives any student the opportunity to develop their love and skill for the sports they play.

“We have a culture where all kids can come out and get on the team. You don’t find that in too many schools. It’s neat to see someone who might go out for a sport for whatever reason their subbie or freshman year, but by the time they’re a junior or senior, they really develop into the sport and have done really well and enjoy it,” Radnitzer says.

“We’re always competing at a competitive level, and I love it too that our kids always go to the end,” Radnitzer also mentions. “They give it their all all the way until the end… Students always think we’re at this ‘brain school,’ [so] it’s fun for me to see them out competing because it’s a different side of them we don’t always see in the classroom.”

As each sport’s respective seasons continue, there are hopes of bringing more people out to support Uni’s student-athletes. As Mynatt says, “I know we can get a lot of people out there. I think it’s just timing and figuring out if people can go and asking people if they can [come].”

Here are the remaining home game(s)/meet(s) for each of the sports. All games/meets can be found on Uni’s athletic calendar:

Cross Country: Twin City Meet on Tuesday, October 5th. Race start: 4:30 at the Arboretum.

Soccer: Senior Night (Varsity Only) vs Cornerstone Christian Academy on Oct 5. JV/V vs Central Catholic High School on Oct 7th. Both start at 4:30 at U of I Campus Rec. Field 6.

Volleyball: JV/V vs Greenview High School on Oct. 7th at 6:00; JV/V vs DeLand Weldon on Oct. 19 at 6:00. Both games at Kenney Gymnasium.

Swimming: Uni High Invitational on Oct. 16 at 12:00 at the ARC.