I signed up for the ticket lottery for the Feb. 13 Virginia vs. North Carolina basketball game without much thought. I first heard about the limited tickets available to students from my roommate, who urged me to register for the lotteries through emails from Virginia Athletics. I’m not a big sports fan, but if I did happen to win tickets, at least my roommate could go.
To my surprise, on Feb. 12 I got an email saying “Congratulations! You have been selected to receive two admissions to Saturday’s game vs. North Carolina.” Funnily enough, my roommate’s boyfriend also won tickets, so I was left with two tickets and no real interest in going. I even tried forfeiting the tickets, but my roommate convinced me to go and take someone else since I don’t know when or even if I’ll get another opportunity to go.
My next step was convincing my friend — who’s even less interested in sports — to go with me. Eventually, he agreed, and the four of us made our way to John Paul Jones Arena. When we arrived there was a clear commitment to social distancing and safety regulations. The student section was evenly spaced out with only your guest allowed in the seat beside you. There were two assigned seats per row that staggered across the opposite ends of the bleachers. The only person I got remotely close to was an usher guiding students to their seats.
Now, I know that I am fortunate enough to have attended at least one game during my time at the University under normal circumstances without a pandemic — most first years have not been as lucky. But because this was only my second game, I didn’t really know our school’s basketball chants or what I should be doing as a fan in the audience. My first instinct in these types of situations is to look to others for guidance, but there was no one in my line of sight this time, and I felt lost. I was more alone than I had anticipated in this student section of approximately 30 students.
Sporting events are an integral component of student life for many at the University. While I'm grateful that I was able to go to this game, there are certain qualities to sporting events that are lost with the limited seating arrangement. This is understandable though — we can’t fill an arena to capacity under the current circumstances. It’s simply not possible, and we know that.
During a normal basketball game, when the opposing team has possession of the ball, the audience would typically yell out a collective “boo” as a distraction. That simply was not the case during this game — it was generally quiet in the student section, with the occasional clapping and cheering from seemingly overzealous fans. I whispered “yay” to my friend everytime we scored because he was literally the only person I felt comfortable expressing any reaction to.
There were also audio clips of the marching band and cheering crowds to fill up the empty space in the arena now occupied by fan cutouts. As a result, the energy was completely different. It felt like everyone was desperately trying to grasp onto what basketball games once were — but it’s not the same, and it can’t be replicated.
However, sporting events rely on student participation. Even in the desolate JPJ Arena, it was clear that we haven’t lost our school spirit. It was refreshing to see energetic students uphold the customs of basketball games. Once I noticed this, I felt more comfortable at this game, and I was happy to be there. These notable aspects of student life come together to create a larger, positive college experience.
This energy is simply a testament to how students make all the difference in these kinds of group settings — made possible only through a communal effort that is dependent on the fans who attend and the mood they help create. The enthusiasm I saw at this game was admirable — a clear indication that students still care. There was a genuine effort to create a similar experience while adapting to current times. Students want to foster a sense of normalcy at these games for other fans and for the players — a small effort that is worthwhile and affects all of us. In this sense, these games are still a success.
In light of the newest increase in COVID-19 safety restrictions, I can’t help but feel that normal life has taken another pause. But this time in my life has also shown me that I’m more resilient and flexible than I previously thought, and this is also likely the case for many others. Whether it’s the roaring crowd at a packed JPJ arena, or just a Sunday brunch outing with family and friends, I know we have a communal desire to return to these group social settings at their fullest potential. And with a reinvigorated commitment to all the public health measures the University has implemented, hopefully the day where exuberant cheers of 14,000 Hoos at JPJ will become our norm once again.
Yasmin Teixeira is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.