The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Shelter from the Storm

Before Saturday’s big game against Pittsburgh, I told our sports editor that if the Johnnies won we’d be getting St. John’s tattoos. I also promised on behalf of our managing editor that she would be getting one as well.

It was said in the heat of the moment. It was a quasi-dumb thing to say. But most importantly, it was said because I am genuinely energized by this team. Head coach Steve Lavin and his adopted group of underestimated seniors have recaptured the hearts of New York City hoops fans, ESPN and, amazingly, the St. John’s student body.

The latter group has proven particularly hard to engage in recent times, and not just at basketball games. In fact, I’ve never seen it successfully done before on a large scale at St. John’s.

Since my first days here three and a half years ago, this University has always been incredibly anemic when it comes to school spirit. As a freshman, I wasted my money on one game before I gave up going altogether. There was no atmosphere or rambunctious student section. The team got beaten silly. It was an embarrassment and a truly bleak situation.

As a sophomore I joined the Torch’s opinion staff and became immersed in the world of critiquing the University and its administration. More than any other issue, student engagement seemed to always be the school’s most-discussed shortcoming.

At the Torch, we’ve grappled with this issue year after year: What’s wrong with this community’s spirit? What is it about St. John’s that’s causing such student apathy? What, if anything, could be done to improve student engagement?

Meanwhile, we watched the administration respond to our routine editorials and try to tackle the obvious problem the school was facing.

Responding to claims that the commuter-school nature of St. John’s was partially to blame for the University’s lackluster student engagement, we watched the school expand its freshmen on-campus housing and annex more off-campus housing. The townhouses were built and the D’Angelo Center followed the next year.

Student Government did their usual things, throwing expensive barbecue cookouts and focusing heavily on promoting school pride. Johnny Thunderbird was conceived, free tickets were made available to students and the MVP points program was set in place to lure students to events with incentives.

It was obvious that the school was trying to transform the student experience; still, they were proving the old adage true that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

Yes, all of these measures taken by the University have no doubt helped in making students happier. But as we’re seeing this year, there’s only one thing that can truly light a fire under the student body and ultimately solve the student engagement issue at St. John’s: winning.

If St. John’s students are paying for basketball tickets again and showing up for games in the city at Noon on a Saturday, it’s not because they’re receiving MVP points to do so.

Students are packing into Carnesecca Arena and Madison Square Garden because it’s fun to see their school compete with — and defeat — the best. Students are excited about their school again because the Johnnies are making noise across America’s toughest conference, and they’re doing it on national television.

Last week, I sat in a class where the professor used the basketball team in a metaphor to explain a topic we were learning. That’s the kind of thing that happens at Michigan State or Duke where teams are the uniting element in their communities. It means that the St. John’s community is paying attention again. We’re finally excited about our school.

To suggest that winning is the crucial element may sound obvious. But it finally seems that the University’s student engagement issue has been solved. No, our administration hasn’t finally figured out the ideal formula for the student engagement issue — St. John’s students are simply being offered something to be proud of for the first time in a long time.

Watching St. John’s play this year has made me a hard core Red Storm fan, something I never could have imagined becoming three years ago. I can’t say for sure, but I can certainly guess with confidence that this same excitement is pulsing through the rest of the student body as we approach March Madness time. If Saturday’s attendance and post-game excitement level is any indication, it certainly seems like I may be right.

In retrospect of Saturday’s game, I may have gotten a little ahead of myself when I made those comments about getting St. John’s tattoos. Getting tatted up to celebrate a regular season conference win would be, well, insane.

Win the NCAA tournament, St. John’s, and then we’ll talk.

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