Is There a Quiet Whisper of Change Sweeping St. Johns?

“If you build it, they will come.”

The pep band ended the game like they normally do, playing Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” to a raucous crowd after another St. John’s victory.

But the sounds weren’t coming from the confines of Alumni Hall – they were wafting over the sides of Belson Stadium.

That was the scenario last Saturday night, and it poses the question that many thought would never, ever be asked – is St. John’s becoming a soccer school?

Just 20 yards away, there was a basketball game being played in Alumni.

What was to be a matchup between the Power 105.1 All-Stars and the St. John’s All-Stars, a collection of former Red Storm players, didn’t exactly live up to the billing.

For whatever the reasons, players that had been mentioned to play didn’t show up.

Even the rumors of players such as Omar Cook, Felipe Lopez and Donald Emanuel couldn’t attract a wide variety of souls and the game drew only around 700 people or so despite the contest going into overtime before the SJU All-Stars lost, 90-87.

Fans in attendance were anything but excited, sitting in the lower sections watching a game that could have taken place anywhere, a game of token importance but a basketball game nonetheless. But at basketball-crazy St. John’s, shouldn’t it have attracted more than just 700 fans?

Alumni Hall holds 6,008 people, and there were a few spectators who couldn’t understand why the stands weren’t even close to full.

“If you build it, they will come.”

Over at Belson Stadium, the crowd was the complete opposite. Over 1,500 fans were screaming, singing and cursing at a referee who wouldn’t pull the yellow card out of his pocket on a foul if his life depended on it.

The band played non-stop, and when SJU forward Andre Schmid scored late in the match, he decided to let the fans in on the celebration by jumping into the stands behind the goal.

There were some that even thought the game in Alumni would draw students away from the soccer game.

But by the look of those in attendance, that was hardly the case.

The atmosphere had the feel. You know, that feel. The same feel that comes with a basketball game at Alumni Hall, when the place is packed and the Johnnies are beating up on the Little Sisters of the Poor. The game is no longer just a game, it is an event.

Belson Stadium itself has contributed to the atmosphere, but there were skeptics who said that the near-sellout crowd on Opening Night a week ago would be an aberration – that the pomp and circumstance would die down and the crowds would go back to their diminutive size.

There was no way that a sport like soccer could keep drawing such large crowds.

Someone forgot to tell the fans.

“If you build it, they will come.”

In a driving rainstorm on Sept. 26, over 1,000 fans braved the elements to watch the Red Storm defeat Notre Dame, 1-0.

At the women’s first game in the new stadium against Connecticut, over 700 fans were in attendance – the largest home crowd I can remember in four previous seasons covering the team.

The number wasn’t even inflated by the normal convoy of buses from UConn; this was a group of Red Storm faithful at their finest.

Not only are they filling the stands, they aren’t keeping quiet. They don’t stop making noise. Ever.

There is a student section, which is made up of most of the same fans that comprise the student section at basketball games.

They taunt the opposing goalie so mercilessly that many of their phrases cannot be repeated in print.

What can be printed is that something magical is happening.

Even men’s basketball Head Coach Mike Jarvis was in attendance for the first game at Belson Stadium.

Perhaps he was checking out the new digs, fully aware that there might be a little more St. John’s pride behind the soccer program, which is annually one of the best in the country.

Now I’m not suggesting that basketball at St. John’s has anything to worry about in terms of attendance.

By the time the season starts, the soccer team will most likely be on the road in the NCAA Tournament, and the end of the soccer season is near, leaving rabid Red Storm fans to devour college hoops for the winter months.

“If you build it, they will come.”

But maybe, just maybe, the attitude towards soccer is changing.

No longer is it looked at as just another sport, one that many feel is too boring or doesn’t contain enough action for a fan of basketball or football.

The excitement that has filled Belson Stadium the past two weeks is unmistakable, and it only continues to grow.

Part of it is that St. John’s just wins, baby. We all know that people want to be associated with a winner, whether it’s basketball, soccer or the kid that wins the pie-eating contest.

Part of it is Belson Stadium. New facilities draw those who wouldn’t normally attend, just for the curiosity factor.

Getting fans to come for the first time is one thing, keeping them coming back is the key.

Whatever the reason, the fans keep coming back.

“If you build it, they will come.”

Jason Della Rosa is a senior journalism major who is a believer in the theory of “If you build it, they will come.” This idea works especially well when practiced in an Iowa cornfield. Send comments to [email protected]