BY TABITHA REEVES
Football at the university has always created an opportunity for students to demonstrate school pride, and this season, there is a jackpot at stake. The Cockpit Henergy Challenge announced a $10,000 student aid reward for a randomly-selected student who attends all of the university’s home football games.
For students who have been competing in the challenge by frequenting every game, there has been substantial excitement week-to-week. The Fightin’ Blue Hens have a 6-1 record so far, notching impressive wins versus numerous opponents. Kedrick Whitehead, third year team captain, and Ryan Carty, head football coach, reflected on the correlation between student support and team success.
“Playing in front of a great crowd is one of the top three biggest things when we talk about home field advantage,” Whitehead said.
As a fifth year player, Whitehead is able to compare his experience this season to past seasons in terms of how full the stands are.
“In my prior seasons, it’s been mediocre at best,” Whitehead said. “But this season, I can really feel the energy from the student section and I can definitely see it with my own eyes. A lot more students are pulling up to the games, a lot more students are coming out and showing support.”
As a former Blue Hen himself, Carty looked back at the 2003 season that ended with a national championship victory, recalling packed stands and numerous sellouts for home games throughout the season. Similar to 2003, Carty described student attendance this year as “fairly exceptional.”
Whitehead referenced the idea of the “12th man” that he attributed to an NFL team, the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks’ fan base believe that if the audience makes enough noise, it can impact the outcome of a play, like another man on the field. The same idea applies to the Blue Hens.
“The players feed off of [the crowd], and it also makes it literally difficult for the opposing team because of how loud it is,” Carty said. “So the communication changes for the other team. It can affect the game and we’ve seen it happen.”
While Whitehead and Carty would, in part, ascribe a better record to better school spirit, Nick LaMarca, head of marketing and engagement, pointed out that it goes both ways. A successful season can also increase school spirit. The Henergy Challenge is one of many factors that contributed to the rise in home game attendance at the university this season.
“We had a great plan going into the season for football,” LaMarca said. “We have really good giveaway items. And honestly the team’s success too. It’s been outstanding. It gets people wanting to come back to continue to see them win and be a part of that.”
Kaitlyn Puleo, a freshman finance major at the university, is one of many that paraded down to the stadium, with parents in tow, to experience the Parents and Family Weekend game.
“Someone I know that went here said that he never went to a single football game, and he was a big sports guy in high school,” Puleo said. “So I wasn’t expecting a lot of school spirit.”
Despite having low expectations, attending the games for both opening weekend and Parents and Family Weekend gave her a more positive impression, considering the size and energy of the crowd.
While LaMarca and the marketing team remain unsure about whether the Cockpit Henergy Challenge will occur annually, the constructive effects of the competition seem to be readily apparent on the field and in the bleachers. There is a growing sense of pride in the Blue Hens who remain undefeated on the university’s home turf.
“I think that there always has been a strong sense of school spirit and pride at the University of Delaware,” LaMarca said. “We saw it with our run for March Madness last year with men’s basketball and with women’s basketball. When student support is there, it makes a big difference.”