Talk to just about any student at Elon University and they’ll say they’re proud to go here. Some will tell you how much they love the campus. Others will tell you they love their professors.
Very few students will mention Elon’s athletic teams as a point of pride. Though students happily don the maroon and gold, enthusiasm for Elon’s NCAA Division I athletics programs seem to be in short supply on campus.
But where some might see a flaw, one Elon student leader sees an opportunity. SGA Executive President and senior Morgan Bodenarain won her position last spring off her campaign promising to increase school athletic spirit. Now in her first full semester as president, Bodenarain is poised to follow through on her campaign promise by collaborating with SGA, Elon athletic department’s marketing team and the Phoenix Phanatics student fan club.
“When I started working on my campaign, I wanted to focus on were things that not only I was passionate about — like inclusivity and civic engagement — but I wanted to work on things based off of what students were saying that they cared about and what they’re worrying about,” she said. “And one of the main things I kept hearing over and over again was school spirit.”
Bodenarain said Elon students “define their pride in different ways,” but that pride doesn’t necessarily show a unified sense of school spirit. Last year, she launched the #OnePhoenix campaign, an attempt at highlighting students’ pride through social media. The campaign is designed to help students find unity by sharing the things they love about their school.
When #OnePhoenix launched, it was meant to transcend sports pride and show all of the different reasons students were proud to be part of the Elon community. But now Bodenarain is turning her focus to athletics, unveiling the first part of her plan during this fall’s football season.
It all starts with tailgates, Bodenarain said.
“My vision for the future is a full Bank of America Drive so you literally can’t even walk,” Bodenarain said. “That’s how many people are there. Similar to homecoming, but every single game. Similar to family weekend, but every single game.”
Bodenarain thinks the time before the game is a valuable window to create excitement. Her first step is to create a welcoming environment for everybody. In the past, she said some students may not have felt there was a place for them at tailgates. But with a new SGA tailgate tent and individual tents for each residential neighborhood, she hopes students feel they have a place to gather with their friends.
“I think people want to go where their friends are,” Bodenarain said. “So if their friends and their organizations are not at the tailgate, then they’re not going to be there. I think it’s about moving those cohorts to the games.”
Some features of the tailgates planned for the fall include live music, free food and giveaways of prizes such as gift cards for those who go the extra mile with their game-day outfits. Bodenarain hopes that if students are hooked in by those incentives, their friends will follow and attendance numbers will snowball.
While a successful tailgate would provide a fun pregame atmosphere, getting people to go to the game and stay there presents a separate set of challenges. Bodenarain and the athletics department have plans for that, too.
“Another thing we’re working on is themes for all the games,” Bodenarain said. “We’re hoping that when students look out, especially whatever team is playing, they look out and see that sea of maroon, that sea of white, that sea of black, so they kind of have that unity.”
Just as Bodenarain is planning to increase spirit before the game, Phoenix Phanatics President and senior Dustin Farris will work to keep up the energy inside the game. Phoenix Phanatics is a student fan group known for bringing the loudest and most enthusiastic support section in Rhodes Stadium and Alumni Gym. By going all out with their outfits and leading the crowd in chants, Phoenix Phanatics members embody the spirit that Bodenarain and other leaders are looking for. Farris sees a greater importance to turning out and cheering on the Phoenix during games.
“I think doing well goes hand-in-hand with having people who support you,” Farris said. “Like all of us, when we were incoming freshmen, we needed a support system around us, whether it was other students, other professors or our parents. Our athletic teams need our support in order to play well.”
And both Farris and Bodenarain agree that the best place to start is by focusing on freshmen.
“Having school spirit is a big part of what makes an Elon student an Elon student,” Farris said. “And we’re going to do what we can to especially show that to incoming freshmen students. Being active and involving campus is a great way to just meet new people.”