By Ray Hamill
I’ll never forget the first big sporting event my father took me to as a child back in Dublin.
It was a hurling championship game at Croke Park, one of the largest and most historic stadiums in all of Europe, and as I climbed the steps of the cold grey stands for the first time ever that day, I remember feeling a tremendous sense of awe at the sight of the bright green field and the intense nature of the occasion.
That moment is a pivotal one for sports fans all over the world. It is an initiation of sorts, a rite of passage, a coming of age when you get to see the big stage up close for the first time ever.
As the game got under way, I remember marveling at the atmosphere and the passion of the crowd, with all eyes centered on the drama out on the field, and above all I remember the electricity of the moment, almost as if it was racing through my veins.
There is simply nothing else like it in the realms of entertainment. Attending a big-time sporting event is unique from any other walk of life, providing an intensity of passion and inspiration like nothing else.
That’s true wherever you go in the world of sports, including my local town of Arcata, California.
Unfortunately, for the sports fans in Arcata, however, all of that might be about to change soon, and there is growing concern that the local university is about to pull the plug on its football program.
That would be a disappointing move for most universities, but for Humboldt State and the surrounding area it would be devastating.
It’s long been a controversial issue for many small universities around the country, balancing the cost of maintaining a high profile and expensive program like football against the ethical and legal constraints of Title IX, which mandates equal funding for (and no discrimination between) men’s and women’s federally funded programs.
There have been calls to end the football program at HSU since I first arrived in the area almost two decades ago, and for long before that.
Many of Humboldt State’s fellow Division-II schools within the state opted to make such a move because of Title IX back in the 90s, including Chico State and Sonoma State.
The HSU administration, however, decided instead at that time to keep the football program because of its importance to the local community, while adding two women’s programs – soccer and crew – in order to be in line with Title IX.
That was a commendable move by HSU – and one that was more in accordance with the ideals behind the groundbreaking law – but it was also a move that has continued to cause controversy within the local community.
Critics suggest the money spent footing the bill for football year after year would be better spent elsewhere, while the proponents of the program point out that the university would lose much-needed state funding if the team is cut, funding that benefits the entire school and not just sports.
But what the school administration has to consider in making such a crucial decision goes well beyond dollars and financial factors. What they have to consider is what Humboldt State football brings to the table in ways that can’t be quantified.
This team has been a proud part of the school’s identity dating back almost a century, but more important than that, it has been a proud part of the local community for just as long.
Humboldt State isn’t like Sonoma State or Chico State, or any other university in California for that matter. With all due respect to those fine institutions, none of them mean as much to the local community – and none of them are as big a part of the fabric of the local community – mostly because none of them are as isolated and five hours from a major metropolitan area the way Humboldt State is.
That isolation fuels community pride.
In Humboldt, we don’t have a Major League team. We don’t have one nearby. We have the Humboldt Crabs.
And we don’t have an NBA team. We have HSU basketball.
And we don’t have an NFL team. We have HSU football.
These teams attract bigger and more passionate crowds than similar-sized clubs elsewhere in the state, and that’s because of the isolation, and that extra community pride.
Because of that, these teams are crucial to the heartbeat of community sports in Humboldt County. And just as importantly, they are fundamental to fostering a positive environment for youth sports here.
And that’s something you cannot put a dollar price on.
If you take any of them away, you take away the opportunity for kids here to attend a big-time sporting event in their own backyard. You take away their chance to experience that atmosphere and occasion up close,
You also cannot understate the free advertising and publicity these sports teams bring to Humboldt State University through the exposure they receive in local newspapers and television broadcasts. Not to mention the name recognition they instill well beyond Humboldt County, which is particularly important for an isolated university that relies so heavily on attracting students from outside the area.
Sports teams serve that purpose better than any other programs at the school.
The New York Times last year published an article on what the school football team means to people in Humboldt County. I’m pretty sure not too many other programs of any kind at HSU have ever attracted that type of national exposure.
Getting rid of football may provide temporary monetary relief, but what the school (and community) loses in the long term could be far more profound.
This isn’t just about the school sacrificing a team to save some money.
(And more than one team at that, because if football goes, Title IX mandates the school will be forced to eliminate almost 100 women athletes as well, or find another way to come into compliance.)
Unfortunately, it’s also about the community losing a piece of its sports soul.
It’s about thousands of fans – and hundreds of kids – no longer having the opportunity to attend a big-time football game at the magnificent Redwood Bowl each fall, or having that experience to shape their sporting dreams and ambitions.
Losing Humboldt State football goes much deeper than most people realize.
Categories: College Football