Developing School Spirit and Traditions

Developing School Spirit and Traditions

This is the one of many columns to be written by UMBC Director of Athletics Dr. Charles Brown. Dr. Brown is believed to be the longest-tenured AD in the state, with over 20 years at the helm of the Retrievers. He has been an athletic director since 1981 and has served two terms as president of the Maryland Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and one term on the NCAA Division I Championships/Competition Cabinet.

A few weeks ago several of our department staff drove up to Philadelphia to watch our men’s basketball team play the University of Pennsylvania team at the famous Palestra, historic and legendary arena on the Penn campus. We arrived early enough to enjoy Philly cheese steaks and take a peek at Ben Franklin’s university. Next to the Palestra sits Franklin Field, the former home of the Philadelphia Eagles and the annual site of the Penn Relays, America’s largest and most famous annual track meet. The humongous stadium was locked tight, but as usual, I found a way for us to enter and see this historic edifice. It was magnificent! On the third Saturday in April every year, the Championship of America Relays run before 60,000 screaming track fans—It’s a tradition that any sport lover should see firsthand. Next we entered the Palestra, built in the 1920’s. What an amazing arena—pictures all over the hallways of great coaches, players, and teams who competed in that hallowed hall: Chamberlain, Earl “the Pearl”, Bobby Knight, John Wooden, the Philadelphia Big Five, etc.—Wow, what an experience!

There are arenas, stadiums, and other sports venues around the country that have tradition “oozing” from their walls; Lambeau Field, Madison Square Garden, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Pauley Pavilion, the Rose Bowl, the Big House, the Pit, the Swamp, the Astrodome, Pebble Beach, Wrigley Field, the Brickyard, the Dean Dome, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Hayward Field, and, of course, Yankee Stadium. Sport terms and phrases such as the Ice Bowl, the immaculate reception, Touchdown Jesus, the shot heard ‘round the world, the luckiest man on the face of the earth speech, the four horsemen, do you believe in miracles, the Dream Team, win one for the Gipper, and the curse of the Bambino are all part of American folklore.

As a sports nut, it’s fun to visit historic and legendary sites. It’s also awesome to take part in sports history. Who was there when Cal Ripken made history or the Ravens won the Lombardi trophy?

Has UMBC established traditions? Were you one of the 3,800 fans packed into the RAC when the students charged the floor to celebrate victory in our first men’s basketball trip the NCAA’s? Were you witness to our biggest sports comeback ever, our lacrosse team’s victory over Albany after trailing 11-1, to send our squad to the NCAA’s? Was your heart in your throat when last month we beat UNH in a shootout to garner our first America East Conference soccer title?

Many times I’ve heard the saying, “Athletics is the front porch of the university.” It is the most visible aspect of college life seen by the local community. Then comes conference affiliation–regional exposure is a byproduct of competition–in our case, the northeast from Maryland to Maine. When teams and individual student-athletes become highly ranked, national exposure is the result. Most of our exposure is local. Whether it is TV, radio, website, home games, camps, or advertising in the county, the UMBC Retriever Black & Gold is a major factor on the south side of Baltimore that spreads throughout the region.

While UMBC continues to grow in stature as a major force in academics, research, and the business community, an important component of our development is school spirit. Wikipedia defines school spirit as emotional support for one’s educational institution, from grade school to university. While successful athletics can greatly enhance school spirit, it should be a part of the big picture of campus life that fosters positive feelings toward your university.

Almost all universities have mascots. The mascot that is chosen very often can describe or define the university. Sometimes it has very little to do with the school, the culture or its location. Some of the more interesting mascots are the Cal Irvine Anteaters, the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, and the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets. Many schools have the same mascot – LSU Tigers, Princeton Tigers, and Clemson Tigers. Some are different breeds of the same animal – Montana Grizzlies, Maine Black Bears, and UCLA Bruin Bears. Some mascots are not even animals – St. Johns Red Storm, Mississippi Rebels, and Oklahoma State Cowboys. Some are fictitious – Arizona State Sun Devils, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Finally, many fans have no idea what their mascots are – Hoyas, Jaspers, and Hokies.

At UMBC, we are the Retrievers. To be exact, we are the Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, chosen in 1966 by the school newspaper in a competition won by Tom Berlin. A statue of a champion retriever named True Grit was erected in the late 1980’s, and former president of the university Michael Hooker was instrumental in placing it in front of the Retriever Activities Center (The RAC). The statue usually has a diploma in its mouth and a mortar board on its head during graduation. It’s a huge photo-op with families lining up, sometimes a dozen deep, waiting to take a picture with True Grit. During finals, many students rub True Grit’s shiny nose to get extra help for impending exams.

Dr. Michael Hooker and True Grit

There was a time when some on campus questioned our choice of mascot, but after numerous student focus groups expressed their affinity for our retriever, we’ve remained the only school in the NCAA with a retriever as our mascot. Currently the Athletics Department has a live Chessy named Gritty who appears at special events. Our new logo features the retriever and has had rave reviews from the public.

Displaying school colors is another aspect of school spirit. Whether it’s on a student athlete’s uniform, flags and banners, graduation regalia, campus signage, or residence hall lobbies, the campus needs to reflect the school colors. Our Black and Gold is very distinctive and shows well on playing fields, television, and around campus. The school bookstore has bought into this spirit builder in a big way with our colors and logo. When I arrived in Catonsville in 1989, the top sweatshirt sold in our bookstore was the red Maryland followed by the Notre Dame hoodie...After considerable discussion, that practice was stopped even though the bookstore officials argued that those two items were best sellers. Walk around campus now and you’ll see black and gold displayed everywhere. Friday is black and gold day for our staff in the RAC. Are any other departments working with our school colors and the retriever logo?

The Fight Song and the Alma Mater are now firmly established on the campus. Our outstanding pep band plays the fight song at athletic events primarily when our team enters and leaves the arena, at the end of the contest, and at other spirit lifting moments. It’s a spirited song, as it should be. Dr. George LaNoue, one of our esteemed professors, wrote the song in the 1970’s and we revived it once the pep band was established in 1996. The student section stands and claps to the beat as we prepare for competition. Fight songs are especially popular on college campuses. Navy’s Anchors Away, Notre Dames’ Victory March, On Wisconsin, and the Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech are but a few of the very recognizable fight songs. They’re great and “pump up” and excite the crowd for whatever reason or event.

Years ago while attending a UMBC-Navy lacrosse game on the Navy campus after a 1 goal UMBC victory, I observed what was to me, an interesting phenomenon that I had never been a part of. Immediately after the game, I went down to the field to congratulate our coach, and when the PA system started the playing of Navy Blue & Gold, EVERYONE stood at attention, both teams, players, fans, and officials until the song ended. It was beautiful and made me aware of how powerful the playing of the alma mater song can be. I observed, in person and on TV, numerous other examples of this tradition. It occurred at my children’s college graduations, at the conclusion of big sports events (Ohio State’s win over Michigan), and at other traditional university events. The most poignant of all was at the UNC Chapel at the end of the memorial service for Dr. Hooker as EVERYONE sang Hark the Tar Heel. Dr. Hrabowski and I were present, and it blew us away—the tears flowed. With the expertise of our Band Director Jari Villanueva, I developed our beautiful alma mater song. It now plays at Convocation, graduation, at the end of basketball games, and other selected events. It has developed a following and will be passed on from generation to generation…Friendships we treasure that will last through the years, Proudly we hail to thee, OUR UMBC!

Homecoming 5K Run with 160 entries

Homecoming is a tradition on college campuses that goes back more than 100 years. Several universities have claimed having the first homecoming, including: the University of Missouri; the University of Wisconsin and Indiana University. A football game is usually the central event, but as the years progress and the event has taken on greater importance, all sorts of alumni homecoming events have been attached to the event to create a homecoming week of activities.

At UMBC, we’re just scratching the surface, trying to find the right combination of sports, spirit events, tailgates, entertainment, and award presentations to attract all in the UMBC community to celebrate and have fun. Athletics has had success in attracting alums to return to campus, participating in alumni games and events (lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, softball, baseball, 5K run) and attending varsity and club sports games. The Friday night soccer game attracted 2,700 spectators and Black & Gold face and body painting was widespread for the nationally televised game. The weeknight bonfire was spectacular. The Alumni of the Year awards ceremony was a big success as was the Student Talent Show. UMBC’s homecoming week now consistently takes place in mid-October and is gaining momentum each year. Our undergraduate students do a great job of buying into the week. Now we’ve got to get our 50,000+ alums to return…enjoy…and celebrate!

A record crowd of 2,781 packed UMBC Stadium for the Fox Soccer 
Channel College Game of the Week on October 15th and Homecoming

There are other traditional events and ceremonies that have developed on our campus during our forty five year history. Quadmania is a huge annual event in the spring. Involvement Fest in September is highly successful in attracting new club activity members for our 200 plus programs. The Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony held before graduation has been an annual tradition as has our student-athlete graduation breakfast. The Athletic Hall of Fame Banquet is held in February, every other year. Tailgates before soccer games and after lacrosse games are highly successful. Many key departments on campus have bought into campus spirit and traditions, including: Athletics, Admissions, Institutional Advancement, Alumni Affairs, Student Affairs, and the Bookstore. We’ve made great progress, especially in the last decade, as our campus becomes more and more formidable. I’ve listed some ideas and suggestions to consider in order to get our campus to the “next level”.

  1. Everyone on campus must buy into school spirit and play a role-- Whether it is staff wearing black and gold on Friday, offices around campus displaying retriever logos, professors’, offices posting game or performance schedules on their doors, or lobbies with UMBC themes.
  2. When I visited the University of Kansas, I walked down Jay Hawk Drive. We need to change our street names from the likes of Library and Administration Drive, and Center Road to names with more spirit. Why not Retriever Way, Big Dawg Place, and Black and Gold Avenue? The recent creation of the Retriever Learning Center in the Library and True Grits resident hall dining facility are excellent examples of “buy-ins”.
  3. Senior class gifts are a way to develop a “giving back” attitude by our graduating seniors every year. Let the SGA, Student-Athlete Advisory Council and the Club Sport Council together lead an annual fund raising drive to present the campus with something significant which enhances our beautiful campus. Whether it is trees to start a shady grove, a gazebo, a sculpture, or a message board at the campus entrance, it will connect our most recent alums with the campus in the future.
  4. Concentrate our alumni returning efforts on our most recent graduates. We don’t want to forget our forty plus years of graduates. However, just as we see in Athletics, our greatest success with alums will be those who have been part of our highly successful recent history. Of course, emphasize milestone years and include all in our efforts, but build into our graduation process the idea of alumni giving and returning to campus. I believe most private schools do this very effectively.
  5. Support the development of our radio station and a daily school newspaper. With the addition of a new, very popular major in communications, we can enhance these two student run programs with internship opportunities that create learning opportunities. A stronger signal is needed for the radio station. A wide array of programming, including sports events, will bring greater interest in campus activities from all in the UMBC community and including the surrounding community. A greater emphasis toward our campus newspaper could bring similar benefits and also provide excellent learning opportunities.
  6. Greek life needs a big upgrade. School spirit, traditions, legacies, and overall buy-in come easily to fraternities and sororities. While Baltimore County law prohibits off-campus housing for Greeks, there are many other ways to expand our Greek organization choices, events and visibility. The most spirited universities have “big time” Greek life.
  7. Orientation for new students is a great place and time to get everyone into the spirit. I believe orientation programs have improved dramatically throughout the years. We need to continue to find ways to draw our new students into “Retriever Land”. At College Park, it’s Fear the Turtle. At UMBC it’s being a Retriever Believer! Sign-up for our spirit teams starts at orientation–Band/Cheerleaders/Dance Team always need new recruits. A master calendar of all major events needs to be available to all of our newcomers. Currently, a backpack and car decal is provided to each new student. I would suggest that a black & gold T-shirt also be provided to each entering student that attends orientation.

UMBC’s #1 spirit booster,
Dr. Freeman Hrabowski III,
President UMBC

I’m sure others may have great ideas to help the cause – we in Athletics are always open to suggestions. Of course, winning championships uplifts the entire campus. Our title runs for basketball and lacrosse in 2008 were amazing in so many ways. However, that outcome is hard to repeat every year. I am perplexed when some students on our campus say that it is boring here. It’s up to the students to make it exciting and spirited. Whether it’s getting pumped up at Midnight Madness or singing the Alma Mater song at graduation, it’s all about “BUY-IN”. It’s about the Spirit, Pride, and Tradition of being a Retriever. How about you?