By Kathryn Gambill
Sports Staff Writer
The lights dim and music vibrates through the floor as the UNC Asheville Bulldogs enter Kimmel Arena, ready to take on the Lees-McRae Bobcats.
In the student section, the seats are filled with fans wearing UNCA-blue shirts reading “Kimmel Krazies.” They jump and cheer as the men’s basketball team floods the court.
“The main goal is just to be prominent figures in the student section and to be leaders in getting the students and crowd more into the games, chants, songs and cheering,” said Tanna Curry, a sophomore psychology and legal studies student.
Kimmel Krazies recently developed as a new movement led by students to increase participation and attendance at basketball games, said Brian Hand, assistant athletic director for external relations.
Curry, a student on the Kimmel Krazies executive board, said the group comes up with new chants, creates posters for the games and passes out light-up bracelets to pump up the crowd.
“The most fun part is getting to be so involved in the basketball games and just having that camaraderie with other students,” Curry said. “Getting loud and into games is so much fun and it’s so much better when other people join in too.”
UNCA Athletics Director Janet Cone said while attendance of women’s basketball games keeps growing, attendance of men’s games appears to be remaining stagnant or even decreasing.
Since Kimmel Arena opened during the 2011-2012 season, attendance of women’s home basketball games increased by 83 percent during the 2016-2017 season. During the same time period, attendance of men’s home games decreased by 21 percent, according to the athletics department.
“It’s like if I was in a play on campus and I came out on stage and there was nobody there to watch me, I’d still do a good job but it would be so disappointing,” Cone said. “Student athletes are no different. If you’ve got people there cheering for you, it’s a great home court advantage. When you’ve got a really great group of people cheering for you, it helps.”
In order to evaluate these drastic changes in attendance, the UNCA athletics department distributed a survey targeted at determining why people choose to attend or not attend basketball games. They sent the survey to UNCA students, alumni, OLLI members and a sample of Asheville residents living within a 40-mile radius of the campus, Cone said.
Out of the electronically distributed surveys, Cone said a total of 971 surveys were completed.
According to the survey summary, 56 percent of UNCA students have attended at least one basketball game in the past two years. Of the respondents from the Asheville community, including residents and UNCA faculty and staff, 60 percent stated they had attended at least one basketball game in the past two years.
Nearly 90 percent of community respondents with children reported they took their children to a basketball game.
According to the survey summary, the most common motivators for attending basketball games were the love of the game and reporting an enjoyable experience at Kimmel Arena.
“They like it when they come,” Cone said. “So already what we’re doing is good, it could always get better, but we’re not causing people not to come because of what we’re doing.”
Cone said she believes one of the most prevalent reasons for students not attending games is a lack of time, not a lack of interest.
“We know we’ll never get a hundred percent of our students, a hundred percent of our faculty, a hundred percent of people in Asheville to come to basketball,” Cone said. “Because this is a community that has people that are involved in a lot of things that are really important.”
Cone said the results of the study will allow the department to not only work on increasing men’s basketball attendance, but will also help with community participation in other sports.
“We just want them to have fun,” Hand said. “At the end of the day, it’s about basketball but it’s also about having fun and just being around each other.”
The survey also asked questions about respondents’ perceptions of student athletes and their involvement on campus.
Hand said the responses about student athletes were generally positive.
“Friendly, just like regular students, hard working, intelligent, active on campus, approachable, campus leaders,” Cone said. “Those far outweighed any of the negative ones, which were arrogant, kept to themselves, privileged and dumb jocks. So the majority of the things that came back were very positive.”
Student Body President Tim Hussey and the Student Government Association staff aided in distribution of the survey. He said he was interested in the negative responses to the survey and how SGA can help make improvements.
During a student experience series launched by SGA, a panel of student athletes spoke about their experiences on campus and misconceptions about athletes.
Hussey said some common misconceptions about student athletes are that most of them are on full scholarships and they do not have to work as hard for their grades.
“I was really surprised to hear all of the things that they actually prepare for that stuff,” Hussey said. “They give their schedules way in advance to their professors, it’s a lot of communicating with their professors, a lot of getting things done way ahead of time, sleepless nights, that kind of thing.”
One method to improve the perception of student athletes, Hussey said, would be increasing visibility of student athletes on campus.
He said he would like to see athletes participating more in student organizations and campus events, as well as communicating more with the student body.
Cone said the UNCA community needs to support one another in their talents and other endeavors.
“The other thing I think we all have to do and this includes athletics, we’ve got to show up for that school spirit and pride for each other,” Cone said. “We need to show up for the drama department. We need to show up for the art shows. We need to show up and be proud of what we do on this campus, that we have very talented students. We just happen to have talented student athletes. That’s their talent.”
Hussey said he looks forward to a collaboration with SGA and the athletics department to increase student involvement across campus, including in athletics.
“I’m really trying to be more intentional this year about forming a relationship between SGA and athletics, and then ultimately a relationship between athletics and the rest of the student body,” he said.
Cone said ultimately, students want to socialize at sporting events and have a good time. They just appear too busy to do so on a regular basis.
“We’re busy,” she said. “We’re busy people. And doing good work in other areas. But I’d love to see us show up for each other and athletics has got to show up for other things on campus and we’re really pushing that, show up for other things on campus.”