The tunnel of screaming cheerleaders and noisy pom-poms has greeted Paige Franckiewicz at the start of her basketball games for years now. She darts through with a full smile on her face and high fives her teammate, ready to lead the Wolf Pack with her signature long shots.
But at the end of the roaring cheerleaders, the starting shooting guard faces half-filled stands and little else but family members ready to cheer on Loyola’s women’s basketball team.
The lack of fan participation is nothing new to the accounting senior. After being a part of Mount Carmel Academy’s only two-state championship teams, she says basketball remained an afterthought.
“Going to an all-girls school, volleyball and soccer, those were the big ticket sports, and people didn’t really know we were good for a long time,” Franckiewicz said. “It’s kind of funny, because you think [the lack of fan attendance] would end but it doesn’t.”
Franckiewicz finds herself playing in The Den under three championship banners she helped raise, two back-to-back Southern States Athletics Conference title banners and one regular season championship banner.
She and other players have a Loyola championship ring for almost every finger on one hand, but she feels the school’s game turnout does not reflect their program’s accomplishments.
“We got like 10 people, four of which are my family, and by the time the fourth quarter rolls around, the stands are packed because they’re there for the men’s game,” she said. “Just because we are different, it doesn’t mean that we are lesser.”
Franckiewicz feels that the women’s team deserves more student appreciation, with the program winning either a conference or a regular season title for the past five years. On the other side, the men’s team only has a sole Southern States Athletic Conference championship under their belt, which they won last year.
“We might not dunk and we might not block shots into the fifth row, but we are still really talented,” she said. “I mean, look at me, I can’t jump over anyone. I have to get creative. We all do.”
Head coach Kellie Kennedy also wants to see more fans in the stands.
“It would be nice to have more people seeing the great product that I think we put on the floor,” Kennedy said.
She understands the difficulties Loyola’s athletic department has in trying to get students to attend home games.
“New Orleans is a place with so many things going on. We have so many sports and so many universities,” she said.
Nevertheless, the department has plans to boost attendance to the games and to bring more awareness to the accomplishments from the school’s women’s teams.
Whether it be through handing out flyers, displaying graphics on the Danna Center monitors or sending mass emails to students, director of athletic communications Camal Petro wants to make sure fans pack The Den.
“I would love to get it filled to where every seat is taken. That’s my goal. I want people standing because there are no seats,” Petro said.
Despite the differences in attendance, Franckiewicz feels like a part of the pack playing alongside the men’s team. One of her favorite memories was when both teams won the conference championship on the same day.
“Being able to look at each other, and dog pile and scream and cut the net and everything is probably one of the best basketball feelings I can describe,” she said.
Having the men’s team so close pushes Franckiewicz and her squad to excel in their sport and hopefully bring home another title.
“Teams outside teams like us don’t understand how difficult that is — to be that successful consecutively,” Kennedy said. “That’s what I want for these seniors every year.”
Franckiewicz also has her eyes on another championship.
“Coach Kennedy and everyone jokes about like, ‘Okay, you’re going four-for-four this year. You’re going to get your fourth ring.’ and I’m like, ‘Uh-huh, I hope so,'” she said.
As she plans on closing out her years at Loyola on top, her mother, Cheryl Franckiewicz, feels she will always advocate for her beliefs and keep her winning spirit.
“She will pursue championship not athletically but in law school and tackle a whole new arena,” she said.