by Santino Torres / Staff Reporter
After numerous delays as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Roosevelt University is finally able to field sports teams for athletic competition once again.
With fall sports having been pushed back to the spring, it was the men’s volleyball team that opened the season for the Roosevelt Lakers. Men’s volleyball, one of several new Roosevelt athletic programs that are debuting this season, defeated Judson University in four sets, winning three straight after losing the opening one.
The next day, Roosevelt celebrated the victory — as well as the return of athletics — with a virtual pep rally sponsored by Roosevelt’s Center for Student Involvement (CSI) and Dean of Students. The pep rally saw 76 participants at the height of the virtual event.
“The turnout was a combination of students, staff and faculty, which was awesome,” said Kayla Linsner, assistant director of CSI and one of the hosts of the virtual pep rally.
Linsner added that a flyer with details on the pep rally was shared through social media, with student-athletes and coaches assisting in getting the word out to students. “We also had it publicized on Laker Connect. I think 76 was a great turnout for the first virtual pep rally. I feel like virtual events are super difficult and we’ve seen that since day one of the pandemic,” she said.
Meagan Jarmuz, director of student affairs, was instrumental in this collaborative “ground-up process.” This featured season previews and brief interviews with Roosevelt coaches, plus video footage featuring Lakers sports teams competing this winter and spring. Also in attendance were numerous student-athletes and coaches who are gearing up for their upcoming seasons. The student-athletes and coaches also participated in a short Question and answer session during the pep rally.
“Our main goal was to inform the community on what the athletic department was doing, as well as engaging the students and allowing them the opportunity to shine and showcase their talents as athletes,” Jarmuz said. “I think it really just showed how we could come together as a community and support both our student-athletes and each other.”
With spectators not being allowed at Roosevelt home games, and with most opponents on the Lakers’ schedules either closing their facilities to fans of the visiting team or to fans altogether, Roosevelt has introduced livestream broadcasting of Lakers sports games. The Roosevelt community can now support the Lakers virtually by tuning into the newly launched Lakers Sports Network, which will stream all Lakers games live.
Linsner and Jarmuz highlighted the launch during the pep rally to promote the new streaming services available to the Roosevelt community. The Roosevelt Lakers website also features a link to the Lakers Sports Network, as well as important updates on scores, new recruits and individual performances and accolades from all Lakers sports teams. Jarmuz indicated there will be games highlighted in institutional communications distributed by the university as well as social media pushes from Roosevelt and Lakers sports teams.
“It’s kind of uncharted territory. I am looking for ways that we can engage with both the community and with the athletic department as they really get some of these live events off the ground,” Jarmuz said.
The virtual pep rally, a big first step in that collective goal, signals the potential for new, innovative efforts to promote athletics at Roosevelt. Linsner did not rule out further collaboration with Roosevelt’s department of athletics as part of the promotional effort.
“We would actually love to host an event later on this semester around athletics,” Linsner said. She said she was enthused by the possibility of “teaming up with athletics to bring more people together and promote athletics in general.” She referenced Roosevelt’s Students Programming for Enrichment, Enlightenment and Development (SPEED) as a potential collaborator for key Roosevelt games, citing their reach and their ability to host large school events.
Dean of Students Jamar Orr hoped that the pep rally would serve as the first of a series of events celebrating athletics at Roosevelt.
“Part of what I think we need to do is be in regular communication with the athletes themselves and talk about these ideas of engagement, thoughts that we have about what we think might increase student participation to really make sure that they’re on board,” Orr said. “There’s power in students saying, ‘hey, come watch me at this game [and] support my team.’ That is a very different message than receiving an email from the dean of students, saying, ‘hey, there’s a soccer game.’”
Orr expressed a desire to see a “cross-functional effort” campus-wide to generate student participation in supporting Roosevelt athletics and their sports teams – for now, virtually by logging and tuning into the Lakers Sports Network and for later, to get the Roosevelt community to safely “fill the gym” at Roosevelt home games once safety protocols allow larger gatherings.
“I would think it would have to be a university effort, not just athletics trying to get students [watching] games,” Orr said.
The Roosevelt Lakers have given the Roosevelt community much to be excited about over the past few years. The basketball teams have proven to be incredibly competitive. The football program just launched. Both soccer teams look to become serious NAIA contenders and the softball team is off to its best start in Roosevelt history, winning seven of its first eight games. The department of athletics at Roosevelt is creating a special winning culture that the Roosevelt community needs to see, rally behind and support.
“I think part of why the pep rally was such a success was because we really partnered with the athletic department and the coaches and the teams,” Orr said. “We want to rethink the ways which athletics has existed here at Roosevelt, and really make it more part of the fabric of our university and build some really fun new traditions as well.”