See us now: Local fans taking notice of outstanding teams

Warren Area High School baseball and softball players sit together at Penn State Behrend before the Lady Dragons’ District 10 title game against Grove City, after the Dragon baseball team defeated General McLane for the D-10 crown earlier in the day in Erie.

On Memorial Day 2018, I was walking through the parking lot at Penn State Behrend ahead of the District 10 Class 4A Softball championship game between Slippery Rock and Warren when I had a “last straw” moment.

I had been contemplating writing a column about the lack of support for our athletes, especially our female athletes, for some time. The fact that Slippery Rock’s fans were so passionate about their team they were willing to tailgate in the parking lot (complete with signs supporting the team/players) finally proved to me that we were doing it wrong.

For as often as comments are made about the vital role sports play in the community, the words frequently rang hollow as I stood in front of nearly empty bleachers at fields and in gyms across the county.

This is not to say we don’t care, but it seemed like we were taking the dedication, hard work and effort these kids were putting into their sports for granted.

So I wrote “Play like a girl . . . even if no one’s watching” in early July. While the response was overwhelmingly positive, I really hoped it would spur some action. I wanted people to step up and show not only how much the teams mean to the community, but that they appreciate the sacrifices being made by the members of those programs.

Kudos Warren County.

With the athletic year nearly complete, I can honestly say it seemed like attendance was up almost across the board. And not just within each school’s local community either. More often than not, I saw students and adults from other attendance areas supporting rival teams.

From the first day of fall, through Monday’s D-10 championship games, the community support for all Warren County teams this athletic year has been phenomenal. It’s not just locally impressive either. The fans during the girls volleyball state championship game were so enthusiastic it prompted the public address announcer to take a moment to thank them prior to the trophy presentation.

The number of people who made the journey to West Middlesex to watch the Youngsville boys compete in a playoff basketball game was equally impressive. As were the crowds who followed the Warren girls run to the PIAA basketball playoffs, just a year removed from such sparse attendance Andy and I often felt like the only ones there.

Flash forward a year, and the atmosphere at Behrend was completely different. The girls were back in the D-10 title game, but this time the excitement was befitting a district title game. Not only did the baseball team win its own district crown earlier in the day, but the team made its way from Ainsworth to Behrend to support their fellow athletes. Nearly everyone in attendance at Ainsworth that day took the quick trip to Behrend as well.

That’s the kind of scenario I had in mind while writing “Play like a girl.” An entire community rallying together to support its young athletes. I’m looking forward, once summer turns to fall, to seeing how much bigger and better the crowds will be.