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It’s the 2011 championship game for ACAA women’s rugby. STU secures the title with only a few minutes to spare. They show no signs of slowing. They run even faster than before, they take even harder hits. Their excitement builds as the minutes trickle away.
Amanda Steeves looks around at the fans that showed up to cheer them on. The Aquinian reported close to 250 people were at the game against Mount Allison University.
“I feel like we had a lot more fans this year, especially at our finals, but nothing compared to the guy’s team. But we were obviously the better team,” Amanda Steeves says.
Some of the onlookers are part of the men’s rugby team, parents, friends, partners, and residence students participating in a spirit challenge between houses. But how many of those people are true sports fans, showing up to enjoy what was sure to be a good game of rugby?
With back-to-back championships under their belt, it’s logical to think that the women’s team would have more support. This isn’t the case. Is this because women’s sports are considered to be less worthy of watching?
Steeves thinks so.
“I feel like people want to watch the better sport. It’s not like females are too far behind, but they automatically assume, this is going to be better than this, so why would I ever want to watch women play?”
Steeves says when people think of sports, they picture males, except for sports like cheerleading.
Mackenzie Heckbert was a cheerleader throughout high school, and represented the University of New Brunswick Reds cheerleading in 2010. She experienced false assumptions about the sport.
“There were a lot of times where people would really look down on it. And I think it’s because the movies, like Bring It On, paint a different picture than what it actually is.”
Heckbert says people picture cheerleaders on the sidelines, rather than in their own sport. Some people also hold negative views on cheerleaders.
“A lot of people would be like, ‘if you’re a cheerleader, you’re probably a skank.’ Or if you’re in cheerleading, you’re probably stupid, or not athletic.”
In reality, the athletics of cheerleading are very demanding. Heckbert remembers going to Expo while she was part of Reds cheerleading.
“It sounds stupid, but you have to put so much into that, so much effort. If you watch it, the people that do a good job, it’s perfect. It’s flawless.”
As a flyer, the cheerleader that spends most of their time up in the air, Heckbert had to practice five times a week. Three practices were with the cheerleading team, while the other two were gymnastics.
Heckbert has had five concussions, two sprained ankles, and has arthritis in her knees and shoulders. She is no longer allowed to do cheerleading, dance or gymnastics.
Heckbert says there wasn’t much support from the university community.
“Nobody notices. We have six national titles with reds, and no one really hears about that. All you hear about is how many national titles hockey, or basketball, or soccer has.”
Kathleen McCann remembers warming the bench for the last minute of the CCAA women’s basketball bronze medal game. They were up by 17 points, so they knew they were going to win.
The buzzer rang through the court, jolting the players off the bench and onto the floor. Emotion ran thick as they reveled in the glory of ranking third best in their league in Canada.
McCann says it’s easier to play when there’s fans cheering them on, and they did have that this year, even if most of them weren’t there just for the sport.
“If they showed up, they definitely knew someone on the team.”
Mike Eagles, athletic director at St. Thomas University, says the proudest moment for women’s sports at STU last year was the basketball team’s first medal at a national level.
“Grant MacEwan was ranked number one in the country all year, and we met them in the bronze medal game in Lethbridge, and totally dominated the game against the number one team in the country.”
The women’s basketball team had a highly attended, undefeated season, even if many of the fans were family and friends. The women’s hockey team wasn’t quite so lucky.
The Atlantic University Sport website says the average attendance for STU women’s hockey last season was 100 people, compared to 562 for the men’s team.
Even though fewer fans attended the women’s games, they still won more than the men’s team.
Eagles estimated that five to seven hundred people showed up for the women’s rugby championship game.
“We get good attendance on our rugby games, but for the final was obviously over and above what we normally get.”
This year, Attendance is high at the first home game of the season for the STU women’s rugby team.
Close to 100 fans cheered on the women as they played a tough game against Saint Mary’s University.
STU may have lost the game, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
“It’s obviously competitive,” says David Fox, a male fan cheering on two of his roommates.
While the UNB student admits he wouldn’t be at the game if he didn’t know two of the players, it doesn’t mean the game wasn’t good for him.
Fox says he has a lot of friends that play rugby and all of them are women. He doesn’t believe the skill level is related to gender.
“I’ve been to guys games and girls games, and I don’t see a difference.”