Behind the Jersey: Sounds like Team Spirit?

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Behind the Jersey
Sounds like team spirit?

There are 14 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III sports offered at Webster University, but stories of team spirit are often not as widely discussed as the conservatory plays performed at the Loretto Hilton. Webster forces student athletes to become an expert at balancing life, academics and sports

Story | Taylor Roberson
Photos | Hayden Andrews and Taylor Ringenberg

The difference in Webster’s NCAA Division III sports program and larger athletic programs is that Division I players usually get recruited on an athletic scholarship, and if they suffer any physical injuries, it threatens to end their college education. Those students are often given the first opportunity at a professional draft. Webster athletes are not offered sports scholarships. They are here on academic grants, placing a greater focus on pursuing additional careers outside of sports.
Like many other athletes at Webster, Trisha Thompson is preparing for a big future while holding sports close to her heart. The senior psychology major is looking forward to a career of helping children with mental health disorders and playing as the starting pitcher for women’s softball.
“I’ve played since the first grade when my sister and I were on a team called The Pumpkins,” Thompson says. “When I was in high school I wasn’t as confident with my abilities. I wanted a school that would focus more on academics than athletics,” Thompson says.
Sophomore center fielder baseball player, Charlie Gondolfi, received a high school visit before playing at Webster.
“It’s a big time commitment,” Gondolfi says. “On top of a demanding biology major, we practice six out of seven days a week: 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. We hit, throw, practice defense, individual catching in-field and out-field; team stuff, like bunt coverage and pick-offs. Coach finds a way to fill the time.”
Student athletes play sports for their own enjoyment, but when they get to share their passion for a sport with the student body, it becomes an essence of pride the whole school can partake in, in the form of team spirit.
Roman Robinson is a senior political science major studying to become a lawyer and is a starting guard for the men’s basketball team, averaging 14 points a game.
“We’re putting in time for something that matters, but it’s a lot easier for students to go get drunk and party than invest time to support the athletic program, and support is the biggest thing an athlete can ask for,” Robinson says.
Sophomore sports fan Michael Hart-Russell looks forward to the games and isn’t afraid to get loud.
“Me and two of my friends start the defense cheers or, ‘Let’s go Gorloks,’ at random points during the game,” Hart-Russell says. “If we’re lucky, some of the crowd will clap along and the cheerleaders join in.”
Fans like Hart-Russell don’t go unnoticed by players or coaches.
Chris Bunch, head coach of the men’s basketball team, appreciates the students that come out to the games.
“The kids that do come are really excited and they definitely get into the games with a lot of screaming, but we need more,” Bunch says.
During home basketball games, there is a designated section for Webster students in Grant Gymnasium: The entire middle section of the left bleachers. Here, students participate in the roller coaster. It is an act of spirit started when a student straps on an invisible seat belt and jerks his or her body, mimicking a roller coaster as it takes off. Then the gymnasium erupts with screams as everyone falls back and forth and left and right in massive movements, stirring excitement for the players. Rivalry games often pack this section of seats faster than others, but some sports are not as fortunate.
The men’s baseball team hosts its home games in Sage, Ill., at the Gateway Grizzlies Stadium. It’s an arena a quarter the size of Busch Stadium that is located half an hour away from Webster’s home campus which could be a challenge for some students to reach.
Webster athletes form a family subunit on campus as the teams become dedicated to each other’s success. The volleyball team may group to go see the baseball team, or the softball team might cheer on the basketball team.
This year, the women’s basketball team was ranked the second best team to compete in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC), the Midwestern championship consisting of nine Division III schools. The men’s basketball team made it to the championship tournament for the second year in a row and that follows a previous record of nine championship appearances. In 2013, the track and field teams broke several records previously recorded in distance runs, sprints and long jumps.
Every team has a similar tale of victory including volleyball, tennis and golf. Last year was a spectacular season for the men’s baseball team when they made it to the College World Series and felt immense support upon returning to Webster.
“It was the most amazing feeling when the bus pulled into the back of the [University Center], and there was a group cheering us home after the long weekend. It was made of mostly parents and some alumni,” Gandolfi says.
In addition to the towering banners over the gymnasium recognizing SLAIC championships and tournament appearances year after year, there is also a banner for academic excellence. For the past 13 years, the women’s soccer team has won the Team Academic Award from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America which rates Division II and III teams.
Webster student athletes work hard to keep up with demanding majors. College sports require athletes to remain physically fit while mastering the art of mental balance. When students give their continuous support at games, they enhance not just their college experience but their teams’.
Athletic events provide yet another reason to be proud of Webster, home of the Gorloks.

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