Some student bodies are inherently spirited, while others have spirit thrust upon them. The University of Mary Washington now counts itself among the latter. Recent efforts by UMW’s administration to foster school spirit in athletics have been nothing short of comical. The banner that now faces Rt. 1 reads “The rise of eagle nation, UMW Game Day.”
Reading this I couldn’t help but scoff.
There are currently plans to create a “21 and over” tent at sporting events where alcohol would be served, as well as create UMW game day towels. The hope is that a tailgating atmosphere will rise up around basketball games and other sporting events.
We don’t have a football team; we don’t have a huge stadium. We don’t have a mascot people outside the university recognize and we are in no way considered one of the major NCAA players in Virginia. Try to change it all you want, but unless the school enters Division I and starts recruiting for a football team, I suspect things will pretty much stay the same.
It’s like we are back in high school all over again. Virginia Tech, James Madison University and University of Virginia are the popular kids. Everyone likes them and knows about them for their legendary party scene, instantly recognizable school mascots and award winning football programs.
UMW is the quiet intellectual kid, not terribly interested in sports, but has the personality and charm that the other three aren’t known for. Instead of flaunting this, we push aside our uniqueness and try to act like the popular kids, but we will never be like them, so why try? Why can’t we just stop trying to be something we are not and celebrate the unique small community that we are?
Why is it considered a weakness that we don’t emphasize the sports program? I understand that some people select schools based on their athletic prowess. If all those students want from their four-year education is a sports team to root for well into middle age, then go to Virginia Tech or JMU. Students at UMW pick it because it is more than a mascot, a football team, our school colors or any one program.
We are a community that is welcoming and tolerant, being one of the first in Virginia to have gender-neutral housing. We are a campus that is politically active, with our own “Occupy UMW” movement and protesters showing up whenever something controversial is going on. We provide countless unique opportunities for students to give back and put their education to work through programs like Students Helping Honduras, founded by a UMW alumnus.
We are known, by those who are privileged enough to know of us, as an institution that prides itself on fostering a strong sense of outreach and support for each other within the community. Instead of being on ESPN for our championship record, we are written up in places like the Princeton Review and US News and World Report for our rigorous academic program.
While studying abroad in Australia last semester I was ecstatic to catch a clip of UMW alum Charles Reed talking about the Freedom Rides program. I was more proud to be a UMW student in that moment than I ever would have we just won a sports title.
We are unique and wonderful in our own right, even if our identifiers are not typical of a state university. So please, stop trying to JMU my UMW. I may never attend a sporting event or see my school on ESPN, but my diploma will mean more to me than a sports team; it will mean an education and a community that I will be proud to represent for the rest of my life.