Let's Go Gauchos

"School pride" in the UK is probably a phrase that only has currency amongst those elite few who attended prestigious public schools, and therefore an alien concept to me.  When you watch an American teen movie and they have things like pep rallies, cheerleaders, and "the big game" it's really hard to relate as a Brit.  We have sports in our secondary schools, sure, but nobody except the team members give a shit.  And when it comes to university, if yours is a sprawling city-based campus like mine, every aspect of university life is so dislocated you'll have no idea that there are even games you can attend unless a friend is playing.  But at American universities, school pride runs deep and it took me very little time to catch the bug.

Me, my mate Darrell & Ole the Gaucho mascot; UCSB vs. UNLV
Our induction into American college sport came within the first week, with the first soccer game of the season.  At that time the university was still giving out endless amounts of swag to new students to sway them into joining societies and sports teams, so we found ourselves kitted out with t-shirts and scarves for the game, and it made sense to attend.  UCSB has no American football team unfortunately, which is something I would have liked to have seen firsthand, but at least with 'soccer' I didn't have to ask for everything to be explained to me.  But of course it wasn't like a British match, because the UCSB tradition is to throw frozen tortillas at the pitch throughout the game - at penalties, goals, seemingly any time the crowd got rowdy, tortillas were flying.  I attended a couple of footie matches, and we even kept some tortillas in the freezer for the occasion, but it had never been that appealing to me back home and I lost interest.  The real thrill for me was basketball.

See the tortillas on the pitch?
Basketball did not capture my attention immediately, and I'm not going to pretend I watch it on TV, but it is really, genuinely exciting.  We were much closer to the game sitting in the Thunderdome (awesome name) than in Harder Stadium (also awesome actually), and the atmosphere was always alive.  Also, attending the same university as the players gave me a feeling of pride towards the team that I could never muster for the randomly assembled collection of internationals that represent my 'local' footie team back home.  I'm still following the career of Orlando Johnson, the star shooting guard on my year abroad, who was scouted for the NBA and currently plays for the Indiana Pacers, because I was there, man.  Not for his whole career, obviously.  But there were some excellent games I attended, the one that really sticks with me was against UNLV (see above) where it was neck-and-neck throughout and ended up going into double overtime because the teams kept equalising.  UNLV won, but everyone played amazingly.  My friend and I ran into an alumnus afterwards who'd been at UCSB in the '80s and attended games ever since, and he swore it was one of the best he'd ever seen.  One day when I go back to Cali I'll have to put up the cash and go to a Lakers game.

American universities also highlight weird sports - lacrosse is in my head forever associated with the protagonists of Enid Blyton novels, but is a 'jock' sport in the US.  Also water polo is a thing, popular with male spectators particularly because of all the lithe young ladies in swimsuits.  It's understandable that in such a beautiful place with such a lovely climate people are so outdoorsy, and if I'd had more time maybe the instinct might have come to me and I could have looked for a sport I might find tolerable.  Although that might just be denying my nature.  Either way, sport at American universities is an enjoyable aspect, either as a spectator, playing on an intramural team, or even picking up a class for college credit.  Really, what better way to meet your academic requirements than playing a nice game of tennis twice a week?

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