The UCSB men’s and women’s soccer teams entered the 2003 season as two of the top teams in the Big West. They both feature the top goal scorers in the Big West, a solid coaching staff and exciting play. They have every reason to hold themselves in high regard, they are teams equipped with some of the finest players in Gaucho history.

Yet at the end of every game, it is they who clap for us.

UCSB soccer teams have embraced the tradition of walking over to the stands and applauding every person who attended the game. The Gauchos applaud through everything – scars, blood, sweat and on the rare occasion they lose, even pride. After 90 minutes of grueling play, the teams still make the fan feel that his presence in the stadium is equally important as the intensity that the players bring to the field.

After covering men’s soccer for an entire year in 2002, I had a front row seat for Santa Barbara’s thrilling ride to their first postseason victory. I also witnessed firsthand the joy of hundreds of kids at the end of each game receiving autographs from their favorite players without hassle or the fear of rejection. No kid was turned down, no kid went away without a smile on his face and an autograph to show mom and dad.

The true measure of sportsmanship and kindness is apparent at the end of each Gaucho soccer game, and I’m sure every gracious parent in attendance feels the same way. I spent many frustrating days as a child coming back to my seat empty-handed after professional athletes were disinterested in giving me the time of day. It’s sad to think that the adults in the professional game are less aware of the effect they have on kids than their college counterparts. But fortunately for the fans in attendance at Santa Barbara soccer games, these players do care.

Both the men’s and women’s soccer teams are loaded with talent again this year, and will continue to gain national attention. But every Gaucho will still be there, at the end of every game, to recognize and thank the very fans that have supported them from the beginning.