Culture change: Support for sports at Finlandia turning a corner
HANCOCK — Stephen Stills once wrote a song titled, “For what it’s worth,” early in his tenure with the band Buffalo Springfield. While it was written as a protest song, the opening lines feel appropriate for something else entirely that is happening at Finlandia University.
“There’s something happening here,” Still sings. “What it is ain’t exactly clear.”
Over the past year or so, manager Evan Brandt’s baseball team has been the part of something much bigger than themselves at the smaller of the two universities in the Copper Country. When Brandt stepped on campus and noticed that there a distinct lack of support by programs of other programs, so he challenged his team to get out and get to hockey games, since they were in season, and the rest, as they say, is history.
He did have a motive with his challenge.
“I think one of the big things I always tell our guys is that if you can go out and support other programs, when we get in the dugout, it’s going to be really easy to support each other,” he said. “That’s kind of what we live by there. We run with that.”
Last year, the team took advantage of Brandt’s offer to skip an early morning practice, if they showed up to a game and made some noise. From there, a passion for showing up to hockey games and make noise grew into what it became this season, an atmosphere in the Houghton County Arena, something more akin to what the Hancock Bulldogs draw when they are playing a rival like Houghton or Calumet.
“I think what we are trying to do is build a Finlandia culture of everybody should be at the sporting event,” said Brandt. “We should all be there and be a fan base because the student section is probably all we’ve got some nights.
“We have Tech playing across the river, so it is tough to draw a crowd some nights. If we can build that crowd, it helps. In the dorms, in the cafeteria, kids develop new relationships.”
Brandt said that he did not start this just to benefit the baseball kids who work hard, he wants them to learn something from the experience.
“I don’t want my guys just hanging out with the baseball program,” said Brandt. “I’d like them to hang out with some of the other kids on campus, be part of campus, not just the baseball program.”
Other programs are taking notice.
“We even see it on campus,” said Joe Burcar, coach of the Lions men’s hockey team. “The athletes are starting to be friends with the other sports here. They are starting to hang out with each other. I think there is more interest from everybody to support each other.”
The efforts of Brandt and his staff have also not gone unnoticed around the community. The men’s hockey team, and the local fans who are coming back to see the team that made the NCHA playoffs this season, are taking notice of the loud, proud, new hockey fans who are taking the sport in while cheering for their classmates.
“I think the baseball guys sparked it,” Burcar said. “The junior hockey kids are coming. We even have the baseball team come over to the locker room and do whatever cheer they want. The excitement in the building is (huge). They definitely helped us in third periods where maybe we… needed a spark. They got the spark going.”
For Brandt, getting his guys to support the hockey team was a no-brainer. During a game in late January against Trine at the Houghton County Arena, the hockey team started celebrating goals by finding the baseball team in the stands and rushing over to the glass right in front of them.
“Let’s just start by saying that hockey and baseball guys are a lot alike,” he said. “They really are. It’s fun to see that.
“It’s nice for the boys to get some recognition. It’s also nice that the hockey guys are so into our guys being there. It’s a mutual respect.”
The image that was taken by the Daily Mining Gazette’s own David Archambeau of the hockey players celebrating in front of the baseball team after a goal against Trine went viral after the game, getting liked and retweeted by Spittin’ Chiclets.
“That’s the face, that picture is now the face of everything that we build here,” said Burcar. “You’ve got freshmen, you’ve gots locals, you’ve got the great fan base behind them. The excitement of scoring, the excitement of Finlandia hockey. It just brings so much to life here.”
The hockey players acknowledge the efforts of the baseball team.
“I still get tweets from the hockey guys (that say), ‘Hey coach, love it,’ so we’ll see them out in public and they’ll give us a nod,” Brandt said. “That’s fun to see.
“I think that is just the beginning of building that brand of Finlandia Athletics and building that culture around stuff like that. We all have to support each other.”
Burcar sees that athletes from all over campus are buying in.
“I think that, this fall, there was great support at soccer, there was great support at football,” he said. “There is a really good thing going on here. It is a driving force. We all want to be good.”
What started as way to get his own guys excited about the school around themselves is quickly growing into something much bigger, a true fan base for all Finlandia sports. Brandt loves the fact that his guys are buying into it and that they are building now friendships and relationships out of the experience, driving the other programs to follow suit.”
“Would I love to see cowbells and noisemakers and kids going wild at the Driving Park, absolutely,” Brandt said. “I think, in the reality of things, we are looking to take our culture inside the baseball program and push it out. We want to support hockey. We want to support basketball. We want to support volleyball, everything, no matter what.
“It doesn’t matter what is going on, let’s just be there and support. Let’s give them the love that we give each other and let’s go from there.”