Cambridge youth provides one of the lesser known, but more enthusiastic contigents of Harvard sports fans. Crimson players have been role models to young children interested in sports and their surrounding community.
It is a Saturday afternoon in early November.
The Harvard football team is about to deliver a crushing defeat to Columbia in its last home game before Yale.
The seconds tick away, and the buzzer sounds. The Harvard Fight Song echoes off of the columns of the ancient stadium.
The stands are…empty?
No, this isn’t a football quarterback’s version of one of those oh-my-god-I-went-to-school-naked nightmares.
Sadly, this scene is a reality and one that is all too familiar to many Crimson athletes.
As a cheerleader, I have been to more than my fair share of sporting events, and am almost always disappointed with fan turnout.
While I prefer to eat, sleep, and breathe school spirit, this sentiment appears to be lacking from a majority of the student population, excepting Harvard-Yale weekend.
This problem is especially apparent when you can identify random strangers on the street based solely on the fact that they were one of the eight members of the student section in last weekend’s basketball game.
Due to these circumstances, few Harvard athletes have ever gained the rank of “campus celebrity,” and may feel underappreciated for their countless hours donated to the service of the crimson and white. After a week of morning lifts and getting your butt kicked at practice, the last thing one wants to hear is, “wait, we have a women’s hockey team?”
Yet, although Crimson sports flies under the radar of many Harvard students, all is not lost.
Surprisingly, the Crimson’s biggest supporters may be those who are most cut off by the Harvard bubble—the Cambridge community itself.
This past summer, I had the experience of working with a summer camp near Central Square, my classroom populated by born-and-raised Cantabrigians.
We went to the aquarium, ice cream shops, and the zoo; however, there was no place that my group of seven-year-olds loved more than Harvard Stadium.
Shown around by a linebacker and an offensive lineman that looked more like giants than real people when compared to the under-four-foot-tall class, the children went on a tour and ran drills with the players.
While the starts, tackles, and sacks of these two athletes may have gone unnoticed by a good portion of the Harvard population, with every lateral shuffle on that summer day, they became heroes.
The conversation of that afternoon quickly morphed into a recreation of the kids’ first foray with the crimson and white, and the classroom soon became littered with big H’s drawn in red crayon.
To the group of Cambridge youth, who may rival undergraduates in numbers on Allston-Brighton and Cambridge Day football games, the two players had just become local celebrities.
While some may write off this interaction as simple children’s idolatry, the impact of Harvard athletics is even more evident on older Cambridge sports-lovers.
One member of our summer program was a power athlete in his own right—a three-sport, competitive Varsity athlete while only a sophomore in high school.
In the midst of a conversation about whether he would rather be recruited for collegiate basketball or football, and all of the amazing places that he could play, he stopped to ask about the Crimson team.
However, his questions were not the ones that normally get asked by fellow students, such as “are we any good?” or “what actually happened at Harvard-Yale last year?”
This high-school student, connected only to the Crimson by geography, threw out specific statistics and player names like a real Harvard sports baller.
He finished up the conversation with eyes lit up and an insistence that he had to make it to more games this year.
Being an athlete at one of the most competitive academic institutions in the country is a daunting task.
Not only must you balance intensive studies with overwhelming practice schedules, but also there is little game day appreciation from fellow students for these achievements.
Yet, the community as a whole may appreciate Harvard athletics more than we are aware.
When Monday morning inconspicuously turns Friday night’s MVP into that random guy in section, to many Cambridge youth, the hero lives on.
—Staff writer Alexandra J. Mihalek can be reached at email@example.com.