The heart and soul of any sports team, especially in college athletics, are the fans. They’re the ones that consistently show up to games and cheer until their voices crack.
When the team is struggling, the fans are responsible for breathing life into the players and helping them get back into the fight.
There’s something to be said about team spirit, and it flows infinitely through Long Beach State with the student section known as ‘The Sandpit’.
The group was formed over the summer and is composed of a passionate CSULB student body, led by seniors Valeria Arteaga and Lydia Marku.
They come out in support of a multitude of sports teams for the school, including basketball, volleyball, and water polo.
Marku didn’t really know what to expect when signing up to help lead the group. But as an avid sports fan, it sounded exciting enough for her to roll the dice and give it a try.
“I really didn’t know anything about it. I just kind of went into it blindly because I knew it had something to do with sports and cheering people on. And I was really excited to do that,” said Marku.
“There was also something about the way that it was pitched that got me excited. I filled out a form asking if ‘you are Long Beach’s biggest fan?’ That was kind of the pitching strategy from Biggest Fan Consulting (BFC), the group that helped put this student section together. It said, ‘Are you the biggest fan? Try out and see if you can be one of the student section leaders.’ So to me, I kind of took that as a challenge. Like yeah, I’m the biggest fan. I cheer super loud and go to all of the games.”
The face of The Sandpit
BFC works in conjunction with the student-athletes to help grow the student sections during games. The group, which was founded by Brandon Kaiser, gives The Sandpit advice on their journey to market and expand their student sections.
Just the mere connection between marketing and sports made this a perfect opportunity for Arteaga to jump on board, even as a transfer student from Santiago Canyon College.
She too was enthralled with the thought of being challenged as the university’s “biggest fan.” But there’s also the fact that she’s a marketing major and a lifetime athlete, which made the decision to sign up a no-brainer for her.
“To be the face of The Sandpit is such a great opportunity. It’s a great chance for us to expand our network and get hands-on experience,” said Arteaga.
“In The Sandpit, we take pride in community, our spirit, and having fun above everything, which is something that both Lydia and I resonated with.
She went to all the games, and of course, I love sports and love cheering and showing spirit. You know, it all kind of reminded me of my high school days, when I was the person that did the little dots on people’s faces. I’d be the one dressing in all red for our school colors.
I guess, I was just always crazy like that. So this group really spoke to me.”
Becoming the ‘weirdo’
Some might be quick to underestimate the job responsibilities. It must be easy to just show up to a sporting event and cheer on the home team, right?
A closer look would quickly show the dedication and work it has taken from both Marku and Arteaga to get the group off the ground at CSULB.
“I think it comes with a lot of responsibility,” said Marku.
“While you can have fun and pick on the other teams and whatnot, it’s still incredibly important to be kind and responsible at the end of the day.
You’re in charge of the whole student section, right? So what you do is reflecting on the school and all of the students. It’s kind of a big responsibility for us to make sure what we’re putting out there and how we’re representing the school is positive and fun — but still playful, too.”
There’s the responsibility part of the job, but there’s also the work part, too. Marku and Arteaga are the sparkplugs of the group. They can’t be thinking about how they’re being perceived by everyone else around them.
Their job is to show up and cheer to the best of their ability, even if it means looking a little bit weird sometimes.
“Brandon always emphasizes that you can’t care about what anyone says. You have to just go crazy,” Arteaga said.
“He mentioned how you have to be like a lone wolf or maybe even that weirdo of the group. You have to be that weirdo in front of everyone that really goes all out and not care what anyone says.
I think Lydia and I both are very much that way. We just want to prioritize being in those spaces that inspire other kids to really go out and go crazy, too. Yes, some nerves are there from time to time, but overall, I don’t think it’s really a challenge to have fun, you know?”
Strangers, friends, and family
The Sandpit’s existence really is a win-win for both the student body as a whole and the athletics program.
It helps drive support and interest in games, which ultimately has a positive impact on players. But it also brings the student body closer together for a shared cause.
Lifelong friendships have been forged that would have never crossed paths otherwise. Marku and Arteaga became best friends through The Sandpit.
It’s a group that takes total strangers and turns them into family.
But those friendships extend beyond the student sections — even coaches showing their gratitude for the group’s continued support.
“I’d say the coaches have been extremely supportive of us,” Marku said.
“When we pass a coach, they’ll give us a high five and say, ‘Hey, thanks for everything that you guys do. You guys are doing amazing so far.’
In general, we are just really grateful for this experience and appreciate the support from coaches, players, and students.”
The Sandpit is looking to continue to do amazing things for years to come.
Both Marku and Arteaga are hoping to create something that goes on long after they leave CSULB. They’re working to build the foundation for the group to have a permanent place at the university so that the student section continues to grow and more lifelong friendships are formed.
“We’re just starting out, but our goal is to build something that thrives long after we’ve graduated,” said Marku.
“We want to maintain that energy and the spirit, even if we’re not there to help.
For whoever comes next, we want the student section to remain the focal point. All of the students are The Sandpit, you know?
We want that group to be as big, loud and crazy as possible.
That’s our goal at the end of the day.”