Wildside looks toward fall sports season without fans

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Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

The Northwestern student section at Ryan Field. Wildside will look to host other virtual events this fall, while large in-person gatherings are not permitted.

Sophia Scanlan, Sports Editor

Fall is usually a busy time for Northwestern Wildside. At this point, the organization would be ramping up for the fall sports season — figuring out giveaways, publicizing games around campus and recruiting members at the New Student Tailgate during Wildcat Welcome.

During the season, members could be found cheering on the Wildcats across campus, whether that’s hyping up the student section at Ryan Field or starting a chant at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium. Other members handed out free NU merchandise outside the gates of sporting venues.

But given the uncertain status of all fall sports and the absence of large in-person gatherings, Wildside will look different this year.

“It’s just completely not what anyone expected, but we’re trying to come up with creative ways to keep everybody engaged,” Wildside president and Weinberg senior Garrett Pollack said. “(We’re) just keeping everyone excited for if — when — sports do return this quarter, it’s still on everyone’s mind.”

Last spring, after the pandemic canceled the spring sports season, Wildside tried to keep fans involved by increasing its social media presence and hosting contests with prizes from the athletics department. The organization will try to host similar contests this quarter and offer a few other activities, like watch parties of old Cats games and virtual interactions with players or coaches.

Wildside will also spend some of the fall trying to introduce itself to new students, something that normally happens with the hot dog eating contest the club has organized in recent years at the New Student Tailgate.

“Without having that presence to be able to act and get our name out there,” Pollack said, “We’re not entirely sure what we’re going to do to replace that.”

SESP sophomore Nala Bishop, who joined Wildside last year, said she enjoys the sense of community in the organization and how all the members want to build school spirit and increase student attendance at games.

A moment that illustrated that community feel to Bishop took place last year at a men’s basketball game while she passed out wrapped Christmas gift giveaways. She had fun chatting with fellow Wildside members while NU fans stopped by, she said.

“I just like to talk to people like that and have a fun time,” Bishop said. “It really just reminded me why I really like Wildside.”

Bishop added that she hopes the sense of community and the high student participation continues, even while the organization cannot be together physically.

Weinberg senior Deirdre Pethokoukis, the co-chair of the operations committee — a committee tasked with handing out giveaways and dealing with game day happenings — said she, too, has enjoyed the sense of community on Wildside the past four years.

Though she’s sad she won’t be watching NU games from the student section for her final fall season, Pethokoukis said everyone’s health is the priority.

“We’re all a little disappointed that football…and all the other sports aren’t going to be what we thought,” she said. “If we somehow do make our way back in person, (we’ll) just try our best to do what we usually do, but in a safe way.”

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