Is Handley Pride Affordable Today?

June 10, 2008
By Michael Paule-Carres, Winchester, VA

As a young child, I always dreamed of playing for Handley High School’s varsity soccer team. Watching my brother play in the teams of the late nineties was a ritual of my spring afternoons, and the consistent victories and huge crowds presented a euphoric prediction of what was to come when it was eventually my turn to pull on the white home jersey of the Judges. Years have passed, and I am now experiencing this dream; the problem though is that the gloss that was previously splashed in abundance onto playing Handley soccer has been eroded away to a dull monotony. While the pride of representing my school on the field is still ever-present as it was a decade ago for those players, the full bleachers of the Handley Bowl have simply disappeared. Therefore, I cannot help but wonder what has happened in this relatively short time to turn the once vibrant community meeting places in Handley soccer games into a near graveyard atmosphere. What can be done to fix this issue?
One thing that is certain is that the success of the boy’s Handley soccer team (or lack thereof) is not a credible excuse for the plummeting attendance to the games. While the teams of the late nineties were extremely successful, with the team of 1998 rampaging through the season to the state finals, and drubbings were often handed out to several district rivals, the quality of the current team has hardly depreciated from its state in years past. In fact, while a Handley boy’s soccer team has not made it to the state tournament since 2004, recent years have not really yielded severe disappointment. With exception to the 2005 and 2007 teams, Handley has made it into the regional tournament. Additionally, the team of 2008 became the Handley soccer team to go through an entire regular season undefeated (that I know of at least). Surely this is enough success to attract at least a few random students and adults other than parents of the players.
Perhaps the reason for the lack of fans at these games is an evaporating sense of Handley Pride within the student body. Especially in 1998, hoards of students filled the stands at home and away games, bringing drums and horns and chanting to cheer their team on. Led by a group of Brazilian exchange students (one of these happened to be living at my house that year) who blended their almost stereotypical passion for soccer with the student body’s notable enthusiasm, the so-called “Brazilian Band” created an intimidating atmosphere for opposing teams that made the Handley Bowl a near fortress, which surely can be considered one of the ignored reasons for that team’s success that year. However, as I observe the crowded, almost lifeless corridors of Handley High School during a class change, I realize that I could hardly imagine anything similar to the aforementioned fan base of years past (This is not to discount the influence of several loyal fans who have attended our recent games. You are appreciated.)
Also, it should not be forgotten that soccer is hardly the most popular sport in America, and many students simply don’t care about watching 22 men kicking a ball for 80 minutes. Maybe if another influx of exchange students similar were to come into the Winchester school system, a similar interest in the status of the boy’s soccer team would develop and crowd sizes would once again grow. However, this is a proposition that really cannot be addressed by the students or public, and therefore it is simply unrealistic to think that this is a legitimate path to increasing attendance to athletic events.
As I somewhat alluded to earlier, not much has changed from the present day and the past with regards to the soccer program. As pretentious as it may sound, Handley’s boy’s soccer team is still one of the strongest teams in the district, while the quality of the players and coaching staff has certainly not worsened.
However, one thing that has changed is the presence of admission charges at all home games. Previously, these matches were free to the public during the regular season, but in the past few years entry has become a five dollar expenditure. That means that if someone were to come to every regular season soccer game, they would spend 70 dollars over approximately two months, and that’s only for one person. If my brother had been playing today, it would cost my family at least 15 dollars a game to see him play, and to be frank that is entirely too much money to go and watch high school students play a sport. This must certainly be a strong reason why the stands, which used to consist of several families with young children, are now almost barren.
In fact, I conducted a poll in my English class on whether my peers would attend soccer games if they were free or reduced price as opposed to the current price. Out of 10 students, only two had no qualms in paying the full price to see the matches, yet four more students said that they would more than likely come to the games if the tickets were less expensive. While this poll is admittedly too small to be considered in any way, shape, or form accurate, the fact remains that its concluding numbers could easily be vaguely applied to a large part of the human body, and it is certainly not unreasonable to conclude that with cheaper admission crowd sizes would swell.
The problem still remains on how to solve this problem. I have always been an advocate for fundraisers to alleviate the economic strains of attending soccer games. However, it seems as though this sort of idea is simply neglected with no solid explanation as to why (Handley athletics have through my experiences have appeared extremely resistant to fundraisers for some reason unbeknownst to me). Nonetheless, the fact remains that this is an avenue that can realistically be pursued to find a solution to the problem of crowd sizes.
The issue of diminishing attendance to soccer games is one that needs immediate resolution in my eyes. While the aid of fans is not always recognized by the papers as a reason for a team’s success, it is definitely noticed by the players, and a strong fan base can hypothetically result in greater success for the team. And since there is a clear problem and solution available for this problem with the high ticket prices and the fundraisers that could counteract them, change is certainly very possible. However, this can only happen with a combined community effort through lobbying to those in control of this situation. It is therefore of utmost importance that you as citizens show your support for your Handley boy’s soccer team right now, even with the season being currently over, by joining together and pushing for the changes that are so necessary for the improvement of our community as well as our students’ school spirit. So in conclusion, I ask you to be active to press the necessary changes that I have addressed. Continue to contact the Handley athletic department to voice your opinions on the matter. It is more important however that you do as much as you can to give us, the players, your full backing throughout future seasons and through any efforts that we make to fix this problem, for change can only truly take place when individuals become a solidified unit backing a just cause.

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