Commentary on the Corps

Now entering the stadium, the South Carolina Corps of Cadets!

Ah, but on which side of Johnson Hagood Stadium will the corps wind up after entering the stadium? That is the question.  For the past few years, the answer has been the East stands at JHS, which bothers more than a few people who remember when the corps sat in the West stands (the “home” side of the stadium).

This has been the subject of considerable discussion — in the tailgating areas (from the fans who actually enter the stadium to watch the game, that is), on the online forum of choice, and even an occasional podcast.

I think the majority of those with an opinion want the corps to be moved back to the West stands, presumably in the area around sections A, B, C, and D. The theory is that it would improve the stadium’s atmosphere, and perhaps “wake up” an occasionally apathetic student section.

Since this is my little blog, I figured I would throw in my opinion on this as well, although on this subject my opinion differs from most. I think the corps should remain in the East stands.

There is the ideal, and then there is reality. The problem at Johnson Hagood Stadium, in terms of stadium atmosphere, is that the current reality is further from the ideal than it has been in recent history.

The natural tendency is to blame the corps of cadets, and that is understandable, since the corps is easily the most important part of the overall makeup of the JHS atmosphere.  It is what makes the stadium experience unique. However, assigning blame to the corps is simplistic at best.

Let’s look at the situation this way: what is different in 2011 than, say, 1992 or 1979 or 1961?

The biggest difference is the success of the team, of course.  I’m not talking specifically about the 2011 team, either — or the 2010 team, or the 2009 team.  I’m talking about the program over the last 15 years or so. The football program is currently in the worst cycle for on-field success over a sustained period of time since the early 1950s. That is the real problem.

At The Citadel, almost all of the students go to the games. That’s very unusual. A significant percentage of them (higher than at most schools, in my view, as I’ve written before) are not particularly interested in sports in general. They are at the game because they have to be.

Those cadets are expected to “perform” for three hours at every football game, of course, but the truth is that it’s easier to play the role of boisterous lunatic when you think you’re having an effect. For too long, that hasn’t been the case. Because of that, there is no reason to believe.

If a cadet is not naturally a sports fan and isn’t inclined to follow the team in the first place, he or she isn’t going to be able to relate to the notion of maintaining intensity regardless of the situation on the field.

This is what leads to stories about apathy, some of which are probably true and some of which may be exaggerated. The oft-proffered solution, of course, is to move the cadets back over the home side, next to the alums and other Bulldog fans, where those supporters can see for themselves that the corps is properly enthused about the game.

The fans in the middle section would interact with the corps, much as in years past, with good-natured ribbing going back and forth, possibly including chants from the corps directed at certain notables (most memorably a former assistant commandant).

I can understand that sentiment. Those are good memories.  There is just one problem: the people who sat in the middle section back then don’t sit there anymore.

Well, most of them don’t, anyway. If you really want to point a finger at something specifically wrong with JHS atmospherics that doesn’t involve the game itself, I wouldn’t recommend starting with the cadets. I might suggest you start with the situation in the three middle sections of the West stands, the blue-and-gray seats.

Whenever someone starts talking about how the corps can wake up the home side and vice versa, I want to ask them if the corps is going to be able to interact with the folks sitting in sections “I” and “J”, which are three sections over (I am assuming the corps would be returned to their original area). The cadets sure won’t be engaged with most of the fans in the middle sections, because they aren’t in their seats.

I’m not talking about all the fans in those areas, of course — there are some great fans who do sit there.  However, far too many fans with those seats stay in the club level, or perhaps remain in the tailgating lots (often for the entire game, it appears).

I guess it’s an unintended consequence of the PSL program. I’m not going to rip people for staying in the club area. I am disappointed in the tailgaters-for-life, but you know, they paid for those seats too. If they don’t want to use them, that is their right.

There is only one real way to ensure that those seats are filled at gametime. The team has to start winning. That’s always what it comes down to, isn’t it?

Sometimes I think alums are a little too quick to criticize the corps. I don’t think that the cadets should be immune from criticism (far from it), but I worry that we play the “old corps” card a little too often.

The current cadets I have had the pleasure to meet have been almost uniformly intelligent and personable, and full of the school spirit that we all want them to have. It’s just not that easy to express that spirit when the team is getting shelled, and you don’t really remember a time when that wasn’t a regular occurrence.

Should there be a little “tightening up” of the corps? Sure. That’s always true, I suppose. Maybe there should be a little more active supervision during games to keep a few of the slackers on their toes. There are always a few slackers, after all.

(It occasionally crosses my mind that back in the day, some crotchedly old alum might have thought I was a slacker. I wasn’t, though. I was just really awkward.)

The one thing I did wonder about when the corps was originally shifted to the East side was the sun, which depending on the time of day can be problematic for spectators in those stands. Listening to the “Grayline” program last week, I heard a tale of cadets falling asleep as a consequence of the sunfield.

Later in the show, however, Jeff Hartsell noted that cadet assistants in the press box had been known to fall asleep during games as well. I’m fairly certain that the sun is not an issue in the press box.

The Citadel plays VMI on Saturday. In perusing the VMI message boards recently, it was interesting to see that alums of that school weren’t happy with their cadet corps at football games, either.  The “apathy” word came up more than once. In other words, the “old corps” phenomenon is fairly universal, and that includes schools that don’t have an old corps or a new corps.

Brief digression from football to hoops:

I think it is true that in some eras the cadets were more “into” the games than in others. I suspect that those times dovetail almost exactly with teams that had extended runs of success.

I can understand the frustration of certain alums, though, particularly when it concerns basketball attendance, which has been poor for many years now (I’m referring specifically to cadet attendance here, although it’s been bad in general).

I know the cadets came out in force to watch the “Blitz Kids” in the late 1950s-early 1960s.  I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard all the stories. More than once. The reason people watched those games, though, was that the Blitz Kids were really good.

The Bulldogs had a surprisingly solid basketball team in 1988-89, too, and people came out to watch — and that was when the home games were being played at Deas Hall.

(Honestly, if it were financially and/or practically feasible, The Citadel should play at least one game each season at Deas Hall, just for the amusement factor alone.)

While the focus of this post is primarily on the corps and Johnson Hagood Stadium, I did want to briefly mention the hoops program, because I have always felt that attendance at basketball games was the real “elephant in the room”, all the more so because the potential for growth is so obvious.

Back to football…

In summation:  the bottom line is that when it comes to the energy one wants to see from the corps, or the fan base in general, it doesn’t matter where the corps sits (or stands). It’s about having a team that wins its fair share of games, or at least the possibility of having a team that wins its fair share of games.

If the program did turn things around, I think the majority of alums/fans would agree that having the corps on the East side would be the way to go in order to maximize the stadium experience. A full stand of home fans would get the chance to see the corps in action from across the way, and the cadets would have the chance to, uh, entertain the visiting team.

The question is whether it is worth establishing the East side as the standard section for the cadets at a time when the program is not at its best. I think it is, in part because I honestly don’t think moving the corps back to the West stands would have that great an impact.

Just my opinion.

One Response

  1. SandlapperSpike,

    I agree and disagree with you at the same time. I agree that a winning program will get people in the stands as well as get them excited but I disagree on attendance at basketball games in recent history. In 2009 while I was still a cadet we went on an 11 game winning streak and cadets had a hard time finding seating. We were super loud, there was lots of chants and even tons of signs. The good thing about basketball at the Citadel is that its optional so those that are there generally care; and let me tell you, when we were winning it was a great atmosphere. I think you would see the same thing with football if the team started playing better consistently.

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