Student spirit themes are commonplace across the United States for high school, college and university sporting events.
There are many reasons students may choose to dress-up for games, including tradition, to feel a sense of belonging within a community, to invoke intimidation in opposing teams or just for the fun of it.
However, administrators can also choose what themes are more appropriate than others for a variety of reasons including unity and marketing.
This semester, the athletics department asked SKOL, Augustana’s student-led spirit group who advertises dress-up themes for Augustana sporting events, to stick to “Augie themes” like blue and gold.
SKOL has advertised a variety of themes in recent years, including ugly sweaters near the holidays, halloween costumes at the end of October and cowboy apparel, among others.
SKOL president Annika Meyer said the athletics department encourages school spirit but would like to see themes oriented more around the university rather than “high school-like themes.”
“In regards to marketing, athletics wants it themed around Augustana,” Meyer said.
Emily Punt, assistant athletic director for strategic partners, sat down with Meyer to discuss concerns voiced by some members of the athletics department around the themes this past summer.
“To have both parties, Augustana athletics and SKOL, on the same page, it creates a more cohesive fan experience at events,” Punt wrote in an email from the athletics department. “That is why communication is key, so there is a cohesive and unified front between athletics and SKOL.”
There are mixed feelings about the restrictions to SKOL’s themes, even within SKOL’s leadership. Some feel the restrictions limit school-spirit, and others feel Vikings apparel makes more sense because it is more accessible to students supporting athletics.
“I mean, it’s understandable,” Meyer said. “As long as we are getting students to come to games, that’s what matters.”
Meyer said discussing, planning and advertising complicated themes takes some stress off SKOL. During game days, SKOL may also host a tailgate, drive to get refreshments if it’s hot or hand warmers if it’s cold, promote different giveaways and sit in the student section to encourage cheers.
“It’s one less thing we have to worry about,” Meyer said.
For the “Key to the City” game on Sept. 30, SKOL advertised a “black-out” theme.
Senior Erika Hoff, who regularly attends Vikings football games, said she thought the choice to refrain from a non-Augustana theme for the game was unusual.
“We were all dressed in black, wearing the same colors the [Cougar football players] were,” Hoff said.
SKOL secretary Barrett Lloyd said she thinks athletics wants a more consistent look for the student section on game days, and that, for marketing purposes, a more consistent look across the crowd is understandable.
“However, it’s a student section — a place where Augie students go to express their spirit and support the football team,” Lloyd said. “ I don't think it should be limited to just wearing our school colors.”
Hoff thinks Vikings-related themes will make game day preparations easier for herself and other students. She said she’d prefer wearing Vikings apparel to show her school spirit at games, especially since she has “plenty of Augie stuff.”
According to Punt, themes like Be Bold, Wear Gold and volleyball’s Pink Night in support of Breast Cancer Awareness are still advertised by athletics and can be found on their promotions calendar.
“Outside of the one-off events where it is not an Augustana specific theme, Augustana fans are always encouraged to wear school colors to show their pride for Augustana,” Punt said.
Although SKOL will be turning their focus away from non-Augustana themes, Punt said that athletics and SKOL leadership had and will continue to have open communication about events, promotions and giveaways in the future.
“Augustana athletics is always open to discussing new ideas that would encourage students to attend athletic events and add to the fan experience as a whole,” Punt said.