According to Robin Van der Vegt, a co-athletic director at Berkeley High School, prior to COVID-19, football and volleyball games at BHS often had a few hundred attendees at each game. This may come as a shock to anyone who has attended games this year, where stands have been packed with BHS students. Football games have often had between 1,500 and 2,000 students, a previously unthinkable number.
When Van der Vegt was appointed to her position five years ago, one of her goals was to bring more attention and enthusiasm to sports at BHS. She spoke about how she would attend away games, notice the spirited student sections that other schools had, and hoped to bring that excitement to Berkeley High. This goal was quickly made difficult to achieve, as not long after starting out as athletic director alongside Ross Parker, COVID-19 shut everything down.
Once sports were able to return and BHS could start selling tickets once again, people wanted to go to sports games like never before. “There were even people trying to come who didn’t have any affiliation with the school … they’re just like, ‘Oh, something is happening. Can I go?’” Vegt said. She reported having to turn over a hundred people away due to limits set by the school. Once the limits of 750 people, then 900 people per game were lifted, attendance boomed.
Last school year, in an attempt to capitalize on the momentum of increased attendance, the athletic department rolled out season passes. Students could pay a flat fee and attend as many home games as they’d like. The introduction of season passes made attending games more accessible to students, and this year they’ve become more popular now that they can be purchased online.
“We just have a constant influx of people. It’s great,” said Magnolia Hougan, an athletic commissioner at BHS. Last year, barely more than 100 season passes were sold. That number has quadrupled so far this year.
Preslie Yates, a senior captain on the girls’ volleyball team, said that having more students at games “not only motivates our team, but it gets into the head of the other team and limits their confidence and (it) definitely encourages us when we know that our classmates are supporting us.”
The BHS fanbase has grown so much that it now has a traveling student section. Yates mentioned how at one of her away games this year at Saint Mary’s High School there were so many BHS students who had traveled to see the game that it became a competition of which crowd could exhibit more school spirit.
David Perry, the head football coach, has witnessed the attendance growth firsthand since he started his current position two years ago.
“The kids feed off of that energy (of a crowd), they feed off of showing out in front of their peers. It does have a great impact when your friends are up there watching you and your family’s up there watching and you want to perform for the people you care about,” said Perry.