Fan the Fire | Culture shock: Fan the Fire begins to shake up Tufts sports scene with giveaways
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 27, 2012 12:04
Quick, name the two things Tufts students love most. Besides Moe’s. And Greek Life.
The answer is obvious; more than anything else, Tufts students love active citizenship and free t-shirts — in no particular order.
Somewhere much, much further down that list? Sports.
Last summer, Fan the Fire began addressing the daunting task of making sports at Tufts a higher priority. Its leaders knew a culture shift wasn’t going to happen overnight — after all, this is Tufts, not the University of Texas — but they realized they could start to get people more involved by marrying sports with what students really care about: community service, and, yes, free stuff.
“We sort of realized that just telling people to come to games, they’re not going to come to games,” said Melissa Burke (LA ’11), a former Tufts field hockey player who created the concept behind Fan the Fire with teammate Amanda Roberts (LA ’11) as part of a senior CMS project. “But if you give them a reason to come that really has a personal interest for them, that might be a bigger draw for them. And so far, we’ve found that it’s worked.”
The signs have been encouraging. Significantly more people showed up at games this year that were promoted as Fan the Fire events, and students, faculty and administrators not normally involved in athletics came out to support causes, such as Relay for Life, that Fan the Fire was partnering with.
In its first full year, Fan the Fire has progressed under the supervision of a mere six-person team, but now it is preparing to take the next step. Starting in the fall, it will become a subset of the Student Action Advisory Committee (SAAC) — which exists at every university and helps combine athletics with community service projects — and will include four sub-committees responsible for promoting and planning events and making connections with campus and community groups.
The biggest change, other than the increased number of people who will be involved, will be a shift in power toward the student-athletes themselves.
“This year, the Fan the Fire effort was really just the tip of the iceberg of what it can become,” Director of Athletics Bill Gehling said. “People like myself can serve in sort of support roles ... but it stands a much better chance of not only sustaining itself, but growing, if the student group really takes ownership of it.”
“We didn’t want this to become just another good idea that kind of flamed out after one active year,” he added.
From a community service standpoint, the goals of SAAC and Fan the Fire are nearly identical. Tufts’ SAAC is involved with groups such as Adopt-A-Family in the winter and the Boys and Girls Club in the spring. Meanwhile, Fan the Fire partnered with Team IMPACT in the fall — the women’s soccer team forged a bond with a young girl who was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer — as well as Relay for Life and Engineers Without Borders.
“[We’re] reaching out to these groups that have really big followings on their own, and trying to bond them with this idea of getting them to go to games together,” Burke said.
The SAAC, which is currently co-chaired by women’s basketball senior co-captain Kate Barnosky and baseball senior co-captain Sam Sager, will be run next year by men’s tennis coach Jaime Kenney and Assistant Director of Athletics Branwen Smith-King, both of whom have played essential roles in the development of Fan the Fire this year. Still, the goal is ultimately for students to take the reins.
“SAAC is going to play a huge driving role next year in organizing these events, doing everything that we’ve been doing this year, but we’re really giving them the ownership to take it to the next level,” Burke said. “Next year, we’re going to have this huge base of students that will be driving this.”
Burke added that her hope is for Fan the Fire to have a greater presence at smaller events next year, in addition to their coordination of a few bigger events.
Despite the common perception that Tufts is a campus apathetic about athletics, Fan the Fire refuses to believe it is a lost cause.
“I think the thing that surprised me in talking to non-athletes is how interested they are in Tufts athletics,” said junior Jason Kerstein, who is a former Tufts lacrosse player and served as a student liaison for Fan the Fire this year. “I’ve seen professors who I never knew were interested in athletics come to Tufts sporting events.”