(Rock Hill, S.C.) — One year ago, Winthrop University fans stormed the court at the Winthrop Coliseum in celebration of the men’s basketball program’s 11th Big South Conference Championship.
The celebration, showcased nationally on ESPN, was the culmination of a great season and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“I tell a lot of people that was one of the best days of my life,” said Mark Laming, a senior mass communication major.
“I know I wasn’t a participant or on the court, but as somebody who loved the athletic program, loved the basketball team, loved the school and loves the community aspect of Winthrop; seeing me and my former classmates get to celebrate that moment was really special.”
Those celebrations were short lived as COVID-19 spread across the U.S. and around the world, effectively halting all sporting events.
As sports have slowly returned, many stadiums around the country have remained closed to fans, leaving many to root on their teams from home.
“It was really weird and like a hard process, because I’m so used to going to the games and being there and getting all my content from the game,” said Brandon Belue, a 2020 Winthrop graduate.
WRHI radio reporter Matthew Kreh, another Winthrop alum, said he found it easy to stay on top of the Eagles through technology, even though fans couldn’t attend the games.
“Watching games on ESPN+ or this year they’ve had a lot of games on nationally televised, along with listening to them on the radio station where I work. You know it’s been around the clock and I haven’t missed a beat,” said Kreh.
For students like Laming, sitting at home and being away from the games was not in his nature.
“It’s been tough, because I was a very active person prior to COVID. I went out and did as much as I could and every weekend I was going, going, going and for the past 11 months, it’s like I’ve been in a pause,” said Laming.
For many fans of Winthrop athletics, attendance at sporting events is a large part of their college experience.
That is especially true for Michael Covil, a sport management major, who maintains the popular “Winthrop Live” social media account, which is dedicated to daily content covering in season sports played at Winthrop.
Covil, a Fansided Fan of the Year runner up, has dedicated the majority of his college life to following each and every Winthrop sporting event the university offers.
While he could no longer attend games in person, Covil said he made an effort to stay creative on social media.
“I was able to do things that I wouldn’t normally do. I was able to do more with graphics, I was able to do more with things like GIFs. I was able to keep the fan engagement up on my side,” said Covil.
He also hosted live pregame shows for basketball on his YouTube channel and worked with Laming and Belue to coordinate a fan group chat on Twitter.
“I had never really networked with Winthrop fans on social media,” said Laming. “But then I was like ‘well, we can’t go to a sports bar and watch the game together, we can’t go to a game and sit together, why not use twitter as a platform to talk Winthrop Basketball,’” he said.
“We were telling stories about how we got to Winthrop, telling stories about what things we did hear and it was a great way to network and make a community and feel like a home game when you’re not at the game.”
Last month, Winthrop and the Big South Conference announced limited fan attendance would be allowed at basketball and volleyball games at the Coliseum, giving a number of fans the opportunity to see their Eagles compete for another Big South Conference Championship.
“I honestly got chills all over my body and a little emotional when I saw this,” tweeted Laming, after he heard the news.
“I haven’t gotten to do anything my senior year, but one last chance to do something that has meant so much to my friends and I, it’s awesome. One. Last. Ride.”