Most of the 41,000 students who attend this school would say they support USF athletics. However, a majority of Bulls fans equate this with hopping on a party bus every Saturday during the fall semester to make the 10-mile trek to Raymond James Stadium. While supporting the football team is great – because the team is better than it has ever been – other sports need fans too.
The Bulls play volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball and tennis, as well as run track meets on campus. However, many of these student-athletes’ accomplishments go unnoticed and are celebrated by only their teammates and coaches when they win. For my first two years at USF, I was similar to most students. I thought I was a Bulls fan because I joined the “I was there when we beat Louisville” group on Facebook.com. However, in the brief time I’ve written for the Oracle, I have been able to cover athletes who have done tremendous things for the school, even though nobody was watching.
This past April, in front of about 50 people, most of whom were organizers of the event or teammates of the two remaining players, the USF women’s tennis team did something that had never been done before in school history. With the match tied 3-3 and the Big East championship on the line, the Bulls’ hopes of winning a title fell on the cramping legs of sophomore Iciri Rai. After battling for the first two sets, the match was a draw. The third set was tied 4-4, and Rai began showing signs of cramps in her calf. She fell to the court, and everyone in attendance could feel her pain as she was having her calf iced and massaged. Valiantly, Rai managed to pick herself up and off the court, and traded points with Notre Dame’s Katie Potts. Needing just two points to seal the match, Rai once again hit the court. She was assisted by the training staff, and was almost assessed a one-point penalty for not being able to walk. Yet Rai limped through the last two points and felt no pain as she won the first Big East title in school history. The women’s tennis team received accolades from the USF men’s tennis team, who had been cheering Rai on in the finals, and a handful of parents. The women’s tennis players did not play hard because everyone was watching, nor did they play hard to see a ten-second clip of themselves on ESPN. This team played hard because of great coaching and an inner drive. Rai had no student section starting a “Stampede” for her. She had no fans to draw energy from. And there were no students trying to rush the court to celebrate the only Big East title in USF history - so far.
Another student I’ve been privileged to cover is Errol Blackmon. He is one of the NCAA’s best high jumpers, and he is also not used to having much fan support. Blackmon has been to the NCAA Track and Field Championships each of the last two seasons. In 2006, Blackmon cleared a height of seven feet and one-quarter inch. Jumping seven feet into the air is almost impossible even with a trampoline, at least for me. Blackmon, however, can clear this height from a small running start.
These two students are a small sample of athletes on campus who need our support. There are hundreds of athletes in a dozen sports who cannot call their home a feared place to play. We need to support all sports, especially the teams that play their games on campus. The basketball and volleyball teams play their games in the Sundome. Baseball and softball play directly behind it. The tennis courts and the track facility are near a student-only parking lot.
There are athletes in all sports who leave everything they have on the floor, field, court, mat, or whatever else they play on. These athletes don’t do this because cameras are rolling or because 20,000 people are screaming their names, because that is almost never the case. These athletes give 100% because of their love for their sport, whichever it may be. These students and their coaches will never ask for the support they deserve, so I am going to do it for them. Please, support these teams. The games are played on campus, they are always free, and all students will be able to see all the great athletes USF has to offer. USF has only one team that plays home games off campus, and that is football. While the football team deserves every bit of support it receives, supporting USF is more than cheering for the team with a marching band.