A fan in the thunder stands

As the autumn air sets in over campus, chances are you will find yourself on the bleachers at a Wheaton College sports game at least once. If, like me, you tend to avoid confrontation with green turf and cold metal seating, pay attention, because a Wheaton College sporting event offers thorough entertainment for both sports fanatics and people watchers, adrenaline junkies and supportive friends.

Depending on your interests, choosing your seating is crucial. The signs at the base of the bleachers direct you to either the student section on the right or the visitor section on the left, but because only about half of speculators abide by these, you may feel like you’re in enemy territory regardless of where you sit. However, if you’re a people-watcher and a fan of comedy, the angry yelling from the mouths of the opponent team’s hoard of keenly invested parents and their non-stop coaching from the stands is quite amusing. Meanwhile, the superfans in the student section throw out sports jargon and flailing arms to try to, in Christian love, shame the referees that are making subpar calls and fight for justice.

Looking around, you will see clusters of families with their children and dogs, classmates, and staff decked out in blue and orange face paint and wardrobe, often underneath layers of sweaters and blankets to shield themselves from the cold wind. Before the game and during half time, the smell of hot chocolate, popcorn and the multiple generations represented in the crowd will transport you right out of the Wheaton campus and remind you of the existence of toddlers and grandparents. There is dispersed chatter and laughter as people mingle and catch up with one another. Conversations about the weather, debates about the theology of work and philosophy all take place, hence you can be sure that you indeed are on Wheaton’s campus. Altogether, the atmosphere is light and inviting. In the moments before a goal is scored, the bleachers begin to shake with the spectators’ worried anticipation.

For many, the exhilarating feeling of cheering on a team is the reason they love coming to games. Sophomore Stasia Lyon shares, “It’s really fun when the crowd gets riled up and wild, especially if it’s a close game. People will just get so into it, they’ll be yelling and screaming, clapping, jumping up and down. And that energy is a lot of fun to be in and a part of.” This electric competitive spirit produced by the unifying desire of wanting your team to succeed, interwoven, with the tension of sitting alongside fans of the rival team, makes going to a Wheaton College sporting event the perfect outing for those who crave an adrenaline-infused thrill.

Sporting events have been social hubs for generations. Residence hall floors and groups of friends and families go together to cheer on the Wheaton College athletic teams. Ron Elenbaas, a Wheaton alumnus from the class of 1962, was in the stands during homecoming week when the Wheaton Women’s Soccer team won 2-1 against Augustana College. He played tennis all four years that he spent at Wheaton, was the manager for Men’s Basketball for three and has spent 22 years scoring for women’s volleyball after graduating.

Elenbaas is one of Wheaton athletic’s greatest fans, attending the home and away games of all Wheaton sports teams. During the games, he catches up with the other parents and maintains relationships with other alumni, while enjoying the thorough entertainment of witnessing a live sporting event. When asked about his favorite part of watching games, Elenbaas responded, “I just love sports. I love competition and I just love to see the talent out there.”

The biggest change about being a spectator over the years, he said, has been the tremendous increase in giftedness and skill of the players in every sport, including both the men’s and women’s teams. Interestingly, when Elenbaas was a student at Wheaton, the athletics department was dominated almost exclusively by men’s teams. He recalled, “I don’t remember a whole lot of women’s sports. I know they had tennis.” According to the Wheaton Thunder Athletics website, the records for women’s basketball yearby- year results only begin in the year 1960, and the records for women’s soccer begin in 1988, 128 years after the foundation of the college. Thus, supporting Wheaton athletics is now also a celebration of the journey of inclusion of both genders in the art of sport.

The incredible talent of our Wheaton College athletes on the field is a demonstration of the power of God manifested into skill, sportsmanship and teamwork. To be a fan in the stands of a Wheaton College sporting event is to celebrate the rich history of the college, to encourage and support peers and classmates and to be a member of the larger Wheaton community. Whether you’re a sports fanatic, friends with an athlete or simply love the gripping atmosphere of a competitive event, come brave the cold and support Wheaton college by attending a sports game this season.

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