On a chilly Thursday night, a sea of blue and gold covered the stands of the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC). Supporters blew into vuvuzelas and clapped thunder sticks. Figure skaters circled the ice with Ryerson flags awaiting the arrival of the men’s hockey team through a blanket of fog. At the end of the game, more than 2,100 fans would leave the arena, cheering. Their Rams had won, pulverizing the Guelph Gryphons 6-1.
The game was the highlight of a day celebrating Ryerson and its students, which began with a pep rally at the Pitman Quad and ended with an after party at the campus watering hole, the Ram in the Rye. The game’s attendance was the second highest at the MAC since the Rams inaugural game against Queen’s University last year, which had more than 2,600 in attendance.
Sanjeevan Sivapalan is a master of criminology student at Ryerson and commutes to school every day. “I don’t come that often to games,” he said. “But the advertising caught my attention.”
And the turnout itself caught the attention of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), which marked the night a success because of the university’s reputation for being a commuter school. The majority of students live off-campus, which stops many initiatives from getting off the ground as it’s harder to get students to stay around after class.
To Ivan Joseph, Ryerson’s athletic director, the solution is having better sports teams and a bigger focus on their games.
“When you stick around in the crowds it’s about building relationships. How do you build school spirit? It’s about friendships, relationships, all the things that make campus life come to life,” he said.
Many new faces came to Thursday’s game thanks to the promotion of the RSU’s new Blue & Gold Crew.
They walked around campus awarding prizes to those wearing blue and gold. Danielle Brogan, vice-president of student life and events, spearheaded the creation of the Blue & Gold Crew to promote school spirit.
“It’s a combination of working with the athletes, like the men’s hockey team, and gauging what students want to see and use,” she said.
Brogan, who also functions as the athletic commissioner, started looking for ways in May to improve the relationship between Ryerson’s sports teams and its students. She and the RSU created the Ryerson Athletic Council — a seven-member organization dedicated to promoting athletics at Ryerson — with the most important arm being the Blue & Gold Crew.
“The Blue & Gold Crew interacts with students and increases the amount of people interested in Ryerson athletics,” said Brogan, after addressing the crowd at the MAC during the second intermission of the game.
“It makes them feel like they’re a part of our ‘Ramily,’” she added with a smile.
Building a Ryerson family is Kelly Gallo’s mission. She’s the events and spirit lead with the Blue & Gold Crew. Gallo passed out freebies like bracelets, hand clappers, tattoos and stickers to game attendees.
“We worked with the volleyball, soccer, figure skating and other teams to create a connection between students and athletics,” Gallo said.
Brogan echoed that sentiment: “It’s the athletes that work hard and deserve support from us.”
Hockey team captain Andrew Buck commented on the huge show of support to reporters after the game, saying “it was good to see everyone come out. The boys really get fired up when they see the crowd like that and everyone’s rowdy.”
The Blue & Gold Crew isn’t alone in ramping up energy. “The Blue Spirit,” a first-year student dressed head to toe in blue spandex, danced around the arena to pump up the crowd.
“Spirit helps teams win games,” said the Spirit, taking a break from chicken dancing during the second intermission. “If there’s a key moment in the game, the team needs motivation from the fans.” Another student joined the Blue Spirit in the fun. He proclaimed he would soon don gold spandex and join his friend as “The Gold Spirit.”
Online live streams of the men’s hockey games, which reached thousands of students complemented the RSU’s promotion.
The broadcast, coupled with the opening of the MAC in 2012, have done wonders for student attendance at games, according to sports information specialist for Ryerson Athletics, Andrea Elliott.
“Not having to travel on public transit for 20 minutes to catch a game is certainly helping in terms of attendance numbers,” she said.
But not all Ryerson teams have the same support as the men’s hockey team. Despite finishing the regular season undefeated and making it to the OUA Final Four, the men’s soccer team has had sparse crowds. With the soccer team playing their key playoff games this weekend, Brogan said that the Athletic Council doesn’t have any plans at the moment to promote them.
Part of the problem is that the team plays out of Birchmount Stadium in the east-end of the city. Another issue is the RSU’s focus on promoting more on-campus games at the MAC.
“We’ve been focusing our events for (residence) students and on-campus stuff because it’s more likely to have a good turnout,” said Gallo. She hopes the turnout from the highly promoted games will carry over to Ryerson’s other teams.
At last week’s game, Katherina Horvath was one of the few cheering fans who doesn’t go to Ryerson, but came out to see her Gryphons play. Horvath graduated from the University of Guelph earlier this year and now lives in downtown Toronto.
“I’m surprised by the turnout. It’s more than I thought because it’s a commuter school,” she said.
One of the reasons she didn’t go to a school like Ryerson or University of Toronto is because of their poor reputation for school spirit.
“There always is school spirit at Guelph,” Horvath added. “We’d dress up, face-painted and we’d support each other. It’s the standard.”
If the Blue & Gold Crew has it their way, turnouts like the one on Thursday will become the standard at Ryerson for years to come. And it seems to be working.
“Two years ago, I think the entire population that came out to hockey games was less than 800 for all the games,” Joseph explained. “Last week we had more than 1,800 people in the stands.”
IN PICTURES: Ryerson spirit from years past