Last week’s 36-28 win over Wallace-Rose Hill by the Eagles of East Bladen might easily rank as one of the top five games in the 13-year history of the school.
Unfortunately, and predictably, not many Eagles fans saw the stunning upset of the state’s No. 3 Class 1-A Bulldogs.
Let’s put this out there right off: East Bladen athletics don’t draw fans very well, and it’s not just football where that fact can be proven. Which begs the question … why?
I don’t have specific numbers to back me up, but what I do have — aside from my own observations having covered events at both East Bladen and West Bladen — are numerous individuals, who also cover or attend local sports events, who regularly comment on how light crowds are at East Bladen.
Personally, I would have thought that last week’s Four County Conference football game would have attracted a big crowd. After all, the Eagles were on a two-game winning streak and the conference’s best team was coming to town. A win by East Bladen would mean not only a shakeup in the conference standings, but would make the Eagles playoff eligible.
In fact, I was told that youngsters who are part of the local rec leagues were allowed to get in the game free if they wore their jersey. And still, very few took advantage of it — which is their parents’ fault, not theirs.
OK, it was bit chilly. But somehow, nearly as many Wallace-Rose Hill fans managed to find their heavy coats and/or blankets, and then make the hour-long trip from outside Wallace to the Eagles Nest.
OK, East Bladen is arguably going through a down year and had just a 3-5 record going into the game. But over on the other side of the county, for years, Knights fans regularly doubled the attendance at football games for a team that has struggled to win a couple games — or even any.
OK, many of the games — especially conference games — can hardly be classified as rivalry games. I mean, Wallace-Rose Hill and Midway and Union will never be considered a serious rivalry because they are so far away. Same goes for the likes of South Brunswick, North Brunswick and even South Columbus from the previous conference. None of them will ever draw as well as when the Eagles face Whiteville or even Clinton. But again, the fans of West Bladen are attending games between the same opponents and easily outdraw East Bladen for most, if not all sports.
Over recent years, East Bladen has offered its fans tremendously competitive teams in football, girls basketball, baseball, boys and girls soccer, and, more recently, boys basketball. Yet for each of those sports, only a small percentage of the potential attendance is met at home contests.
And it’s far worse on the road.
As was already pointed out, Wallace-Rose Hill fans nearly matched the number of East Bladen fans last Friday night. I can only guess, but it’s an educated one that, had the game been in Teachey, I would hardly need my fingers AND toes to count the number of Eagles fans who made the trip. Before you say, “yeah, but, they have a really successful program …,” don’t forget that the Eagles went to a state final and the East Regional championship three straight years just recently — and the attendance was just as woeful.
Fans who make a commitment to attend these games, pay their $6 and park themselves in the stands will accomplish a lot of things — probably more than they may think.
First off all, don’t think the attendance at East Bladen games isn’t noticed by the players on the sidelines. Their attention might seem to be continually focused on the action, but occasionally they do look up in the stands — perhaps searching for a girlfriend, a buddy, a favorite teacher or a family member. But overall, they also notice just how full, or empty, the stands are. As folks at Texas A&M can attest to, there is a tremendous uplifting affect to having a “12th Man.”
Secondly, attending these games is not only showing support for the players, but also shows support for the school’s booster club. And if you happen to also purchase an East Bladen cap or shirt, a 50-50 ticket and/or a hot dog, your support stretches even further.
Thirdly, attending a game at the Eagles Nest also makes you part of a social event, where family and friends can connect. Beyond that, new friends easily can be made, which solidifies a sense of community that could pay dividends down the road.
And finally, it’s not just football that benefits from the support of fans on Friday nights. Sure, football is the main event, but on the undercard is also a halftime show by the school’s marching band, as well as an ongoing rah-rah-rah by the varsity cheerleading squad (many of whom are also varsity athletes).
East Bladen will travel to Rose Hill tonight to take on the Spartans of Union High, so the chances for any kind of Eagles fan caravan are slim. But East Bladen will be hosting West Bladen next Friday in a conference finale that very well could have all kinds of state playoff implications.
It would be nice to see Eagles fans make an effort to fill the stands on the home side of the field. I feel sure the opposing side will be stuffed full of Knights supporters.
— W. Curt Vincent is the general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.