By: Justin Brouckaert, Vanguard Sports Editor
In the last six years, attendance at Wickes Stadium had surpassed 8,000 only once.
That milestone was reached for a second time during Saturday night’s season opener, a 30-27 SVSU victory over Ferris State.
“It was an unbelievable environment,” said head football coach Jim Collins. “We had a great student following.”
A total of 8,173 fans came out for the 7 p.m. start to watch the first night game in school history. Matthew Woodbury, director of athletic media relations, said that the athletic department expected an increase in attendance to come with the new start time.
“We expect[ed] the crowds to be larger on average than what we have experienced over the course of the past few seasons,” Woodbury said. “We did a lot of research with schools like us that have made the move to night games and all have experienced an attendance increase.”
The turnout on Saturday was the biggest for any GLIAC football game played during the weekend and the largest crowd at Wickes Stadium since a 2010 loss to Grand Valley.
“I loved it,” said sophomore quarterback Jonathon Jennings, who passed for more than 300 yards in the win. “Everyone was excited. The students were excited, the fans were excited; it was a really great atmosphere.”
According to the athletic department’s website, the seating capacity at Wickes Stadium is set at 6,800. On Saturday night, fans spilled out onto the hills on both sides of the field to find seating, and the stands remained filled until the last play of the game, a botched punt return by Ferris State that sealed the victory for SVSU.
“The more students and fans we pack into Wickes Stadium for a game, the more energy it helps create for our team,” Woodbury said.
Along with the renovations to the field and the new start time, SVSU and the athletic department also announced a new tailgating policy for the 2011 season. Students, wearing red for the “Red Out,” were allowed to tailgate in Parking Lot C, by the Ryder Center, three hours before kickoff.
“I love it,” said Eddy Veenstra, a sophomore elementary education major. “I don’t even wake up until one on the weekend. “I love playing under the lights.”
Kyle Kreger, a criminal justice senior, agreed.
“I really liked it,” he said. “Tailgating was a good place to interact with other students before the game.”
Accounting sophomore Danielle Wood said that she and her friends came to the game because they liked it much better than the noon games.
Emma Ebosi, a nursing sophomore, said that she also enjoys the night games more.
“I went last year, but it was too early,” she said. “There are much more people here.”
Veenstra said that, while he enjoyed the atmosphere, the influx of fans also made it hard to find a good seat.
“We got here a little late, so we had to sit on the hill,” he said. “This place is packed.”
The next home game is at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24 against Northwood.