Saturday, February 24, 2018

Camosun has a sports team?: A Camosun student athlete looks at the Chargers’ challenges

May 13, 2015 by Lachlan Ross, contributing writer

When Camosun Chargers men’s volleyball setter Vitor Macedo’s block looped up over his opponents and landed inches within the end line during men’s volleyball championships, my Facebook newsfeed exploded. Pictures of gold medals in mouths, a white banner reading “National Champions Canadiens,” and the wooden trophy that took two hands to carry were posted everywhere. As a member of the Camosun basketball team, much of my social media circle was either following the volleyball game on Twitter or streaming it live.

Our team, who wasn’t expected to make the national championships, had won it.

Chargers families and friends were going crazy. But most Camosun students would have been more surprised to find out we have a sports team than to learn that a Camosun team won gold at Nationals.

My journey to the Chargers came after three years studying at UVic. In my first season, I was asked to join the Chargers athletic council, where two members of each team meet with the athletic director and staff to discuss possible improvements to the program. It was in these meetings, and getting to know senior players, that I began to understand the Camosun sports teams.

Getting students involved was always our top priority, and I think in the first two years we made some progress. After seeing the success of UVic’s Vikes programs in my time there, I hoped we could create a scaled-down version of it. Now, after finishing my third season with the basketball team as one of the captains, I have had opportunities to interact with almost every coach, athlete, event staffer, and administrative member in the program. Based on the feedback they’ve given me, there’s still a huge amount of work ahead of the Chargers.

Victory cheers amongst the silence

It’s been a landmark year for Camosun athletics. Jared Callbeck became the school’s first individual champion at golf nationals last October, with the Chargers team taking silver; the women’s and men’s basketball teams finished fourth and fifth at provincial playoffs; the school hosted volleyball provincials, winning gold and silver medals, with teams going on to earn gold and bronze at national championships.

Visibility is the Camosun Chargers' biggest challenge (photo by Kevin Light).

Visibility is the Camosun Chargers’ biggest challenge (photo by Kevin Light).

Camosun may be a small commuter school hiding in UVic’s shadow, but the city finally heard about our blue-and-white team with the ram mascot. Local television stations and newspapers publicized the gold medal win and praise streamed in from Chargers alumni and other sports organizations.

Within the student population of Camosun, however, midterms, assignments, and weekend plans remained the topics of conversation.

Walking around Lansdowne campus in late March, there were no mentions of volleyball victories. Two bulletin boards by the cafeteria formed a promotional collage about meditation, concerts, squash, and community printing, with just a single Chargers game schedule (posted in September) on one board. In the campus bookstore informational slides flicked across a television screen for students. Used textbooks, bus routes, locker rentals, and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions were advertised, and then popped up a slide about the Chargers. The sign said “Camosun College Chargers clothing and merchandise is available here!” but the Lansdowne bookstore stopped selling Chargers gear in 2010.

The most noticeable mention of the Chargers on campus is a life-size poster of a volleyball player holding textbooks outside the Lansdowne bookstore entrance, on the window of the cafeteria. A quote by the athlete says, “Sport is my life. Now I’m making it my career,” advertising the college’s Sport Management program. The problem is our team’s poster boy now wears black and white playing up island at Vancouver Island University: Camosun’s rivals.

A desperate need

“Most students don’t know that the Chargers exist,” says Camosun College Student Society (CCSS) student services coordinator Michael Glover. “There just isn’t enough awareness and that constant effort to get students to come to games.”

Since the Chargers moved their teams and staff to the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence (PISE) in 2008, the program has struggled to keep in touch with Lansdowne students. Despite PISE being situated on Camosun’s Interurban campus, even many students there aren’t familiar with the teams. The numbers say it all: it took two and a half years to sell 48 remaining sweatshirts at both campus bookstores after they stopped ordering Chargers merchandise in 2010 (the Interurban bookstore still sells a very limited amount of Chargers clothing).

To fully put the Chargers predicament into perspective, though, it is important to know where they started. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when our basketball and volleyball teams were less than 10 years old, the Chargers didn’t have a home gym. Staff packed a van full of the limited sports equipment the school owned and drove to a rented gym at St. Margaret’s School to set up for games. Today, the Chargers have a mascot and an office filled with desks for four staff members and coaches and share a world-class facility with Olympians at PISE.

The centre court circle on the Chargers’ home court is painted navy, with a mean white ram logo exploding out. At both end lines, huge white letters spell out “Chargers” against the navy backdrop. Large rectangular windows on the second and third floors of PISE look down on two courts, where basketball and volleyball players can be seen practicing throughout the day. On game days, royal blue bleachers are rolled out over one court, creating a show court for the athletes. Players from every team across the league know Camosun for having the best facilities.

A desperate need for a place to centralize the Chargers resulted in this huge gym, immaculate weight room, second “high performance” weight room, and recovery facilities such as hot tubs and ice baths. Now the problem has shifted to an inability for students to get out there. With many Lansdowne pupils living by their campus, a 20-minute drive out to Interurban and PISE is 10 minutes further than most people in Victoria seem willing to go. Furthermore, a Chargers office out at PISE has created a disconnect between the sports teams and the students.

This season, the Chargers basketball and volleyball teams averaged around 150 fans, mostly made up of families and friends, through the gates on game days. The student population, who get free admission instead of paying $5, made up just 24 percent of crowds. While this number improved from 19 percent last year, it still struggles to justify students spending $17 through each semester’s tuition on sports they don’t watch (every Camosun student pays fees towards the Chargers as part of their tuition).

Student-friendly social media

The student society’s Glover says that the Chargers moving to Interurban was a mistake the college made that the athletic program is now having to deal with. At the time, an extravagant sport facility beat out lacking a home court, but seven years later the students still aren’t showing up to it.

“It’s hard to transmit information now because there are so many ways to do it,” says Glover. “When [the CCSS] is the most successful, we have somebody out there all the time. There’s just nothing that will ever beat face to face.”

In the first week of classes, basketball and volleyball players promoted their teams at a stall during Camfest on both campuses. Unfortunately for the basketball teams, that day of publicity in September was two months before their first home game. The Chargers are aware that they’re struggling to stay noticed by those attending Camosun.

“My job is to reach the people that don’t know about us,” says Chargers marketing and communications officer Bonita Joe, who has been with the program for all of its 21 years. “We know that student area is one of those ones that we really have trouble reaching.”

This year, in a push to promote to students, Joe brought local media to games, put advertisements in Nexus, and tweeted out game dates and results regularly. And although the Chargers booth at Camfest may have been too early to keep students’ attention, Joe says that “athletes are the best form of advertising we have on this campus if you want to target students.”

One of the ways many Chargers athletes believe the program could strike the student population is to be more interactive online.

“Our in-house social media is better than any other school’s in our conference,” says fifth-year volleyball captain Jeremy Finn, “but it’s not the right type of social media. I don’t think it gets through to the right audience.”

Finn says that despite information being posted on Twitter and Facebook by the Chargers, photos and videos are what get students clicking. The Chargers employ a professional photographer for games, but “our pictures are hidden on a different page and saved until the end of the year for the athletic banquet,” says Finn.

Meanwhile, at Lansdowne

In the basement of the Young Building at the Lansdowne campus, students sit at white weight machines and run on treadmills in the campus fitness centre. Outside the entrance two small sets of shelves sit on either side of a bulletin board with signs announcing that the board contains “recreation & athletics information.”

The Chargers logo is on the sign, but no other mention of the sports teams is anywhere to be seen.

“There’s just no Chargers presence here at all,” says Glover. “As far as Lansdowne is concerned, it just doesn’t exist.” The student society has a staff member at Lansdowne campus twenty hours a week talking to students to raise awareness about the CCSS. “They’re all great people,” Glover says of the Chargers, “but they’re not here.”

With her office at PISE now, the Chargers’ Joe says she only gets a chance to visit the Lansdowne campus once every two weeks. While she emails slides to the Lansdowne library and bookstore for their television monitors, she says that after the email is sent, whether the information makes it to the students is unknown.

Comparing the power of social media with the bulletin board on campus 21 years ago when the Chargers started, Joe says that “although communication was limited, I think it was more effective.”

With so much noise blaring at students from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, news apps, emails, and online games, the ability to get students’ attention on social media becomes as competitive for the Chargers as their athletes’ games.

Also, this past year, where we had a large group of senior athletes interested in promoting and progressing the Chargers program, no athletic council was put in place. As a result, many of the ideas athletes had to advertise our teams were either not delivered to Chargers administration, or were not acted on.

At the beginning of March, the Chargers rolled in and pieced together a special sports floor, creating a feature court in the centre of the gym and adding excess bleachers to double capacity. It was PACWEST volleyball provincials at PISE, and the program was on display for British Columbia. Events like this show that with a focused effort the Chargers are capable of pulling off big plans and drawing out crowds.

Now the Chargers need to bring this focus to the addition of specifically targeted social media, and advertising on Camosun-related websites, such as the college’s homepage and Camosun’s online learning website, D2L. To address the lack of physical reminders on campus, the program could hire students or student athletes to bring awareness to both campuses before home games. Perhaps with efforts like these, the common questions, “What’s PISE?” and “Camoun has a sports team?” will be eliminated.

But until the Camosun Chargers can connect with students, games will continue to be played for the polite claps of parents rather than the rowdy cheers of pupils seen in other college’s gyms. While the Chargers appreciate the support of anyone in the community, their student fan base is who the athletes want to play for.

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6 Responses to “Camosun has a sports team?: A Camosun student athlete looks at the Chargers’ challenges”
  1. Jim Schultz says:

    It seems Michelle may have a vested interest in the story and doesn’t not appreciate when someone finally stats the obvious.

  2. Matteus says:

    Article seems to omit the huge chunk of cash the Chargers take from students each year thru their student fees and how the Chargers dont fundraise a dime of their own cash.

    • Reply Mode says:

      The Chargers fundraise as individual teams. It may not be a wide known fact, but it does happen every season.

    • SBB-C says:

      The players, coaches, parents, friends, etc.. dedicate a huge amount of time and effort to fundraising throughout each year. The teams are, without a doubt, infinitely thankful for the financial support from the school and for the privilege to represent Camosun. The teams must fundraise as there is still a need for further funds in order to keep each respective program afloat. The Chargers do in fact fundraise on their own accord.

  3. Michelle Tinis says:

    Poorly written. Unbalanced story. Inaccurate.