Present attendance: a far cry from past

By Carl Ackerman

Throughout history, women’s collegiate basketball has never received much publicity. National attention has always been focused on the mens’ teams, while the women sat in the shadow of fame with little recognition. That dominant belief is starting to crumble away—at least in the DeKalb area.

Maybe ESPN coverage for regular season games is pushing it a little, but one piece of evidence that exists is the increased attendance at the NIU women’s basketball games over the last few years.

The figures have skyrocketed since the 1985-86 team (8-19) that brought an average 222 fans per home game. This year’s team (19-4) has witnessed an attendance boost to 896 per game after just eight contests.

Although the difference in the team’s quality is shown in the record, Coach Jane Albright feels this isn’t the only reason for such a surge in the attendance.

We have proven to be a team with quality and excitement. The interest is growing. I think the personalities of these players also has something to do with it,” said sixth-year NIU coach Albright.

Albright said she first seemed to notice the increase of the crowd during last season.

“They seemed to be more into it and more enthusiastic last season,” said Albright.

Over the years, many of the players have noticed a dramatic change in the crowd’s enthusiasm as well.

“It’s been a huge increase,” said third-year guard Denise Dove. “During my first year (1987-88), you could hear a pin drop it was so quiet. Now, it’s just so loud and enthusiastic that it makes us want to play harder. The crowd is like a sixth man on the team.”

As senior guard Kris Weis puts it, this year’s fans are just as excited as we are.

“We really feel like people care. It’s like 100 percent better than our first year. During my freshman year (1986-87), we had about 100 people at the games. Now it’s phenomenal,” said Weis.

Albright’s thoughts on crowd-player relationships coincide with those of her teammates’.

“We have definitely grown closer to the crowd over the years. It’s a real closeness. There is a unity between us and the fans. They give us lots of energy, and we feel responsible for them,” said Albright.

Tammy Hinchee, who is averaging 20 points and 10.5 rebounds per game for NIU, also admits that the hometown fans are a strong part of the team.

“We really like the crowd. It really gets us excited and pumped up,” said Hinchee.

But could attendance improve even more during the year? The answer appears to be yes.

For Thursday’s 7 p.m. showdown against the arch-rival DePaul Blue Demons, NIU is hoping to drastically increase the average attendance by closing in on the 5,000 mark.

When NIU traveled to DePaul earlier this year, the Huskies pulled out an 81-75 victory in front of 4,294 fans — an Illinois women’s collegiate basketball record. NIU sent six busloads of fans to that game.

“We want to sell it out. I will be really disappointed if we don’t,” said Albright. Chick Evans Field House has the capacity for 6,068 people.

That is a far cry from the enthusiasm that existed in 1986-87 when NIU averaged 254 fans per game. The following year’s attendance jumped to a 408 average. Since then the average has increased by 260 in 1988-89 and 228 this season.

Compared to other women’s basketball crowds, Albright feels although NIU may not bring in the attendance figures of a sustained Top-10 team, the NIU fans are often much more enthusiastic.

“I think people need to come see one game, and notice what we have here is one of the best products in the area,” said Albright. “Even if people don’t know a lot about sports, I think they should come see us. They should enjoy what they see.”