Before the West Field House closed for renovation, there was a mural of Sammy the Slug painted on the walls, pictured as a muscular, fierce mascot; the opposite of most UC Santa Cruzans’ perception of him as timid and noncompetitive.

It seems as though our slug mascot has been misunderstood and along with him, the athletes that play under that mascot’s name.

While most students don’t choose UCSC for its nationally recognized sports teams, athletics are alive and well here. You just may not know it.

Most outsiders — and some UCSC students — assume our school doesn’t have a strong athletics program, or they might think that we are just into fringe sports, even after years of athletic success. It is up to our student community to give UCSC sports the recognition they deserve.

Just because we don’t have a stadium doesn’t mean we don’t have sports. It only means that our athletics program is underfunded.

Despite problems with funding, the Slugs have managed to excel in numerous sports and bring national attention to our university.

The men’s water polo team was NCAA Division III champion in 2007.

The men’s soccer team has seen some its players make it to the professionals, including 2004 graduate Aaron Lanes of the Houston Dynamo, Steve Wondolowski also of the Dynamo, and 2008 graduate Adam Smart, who plays for the San Jose Earthquakes.

The women’s rugby team is currently in the elite eight of the national playoffs. In 2007, the women ranked second in the nation and in 2006, they were the national champions.

The men’s tennis team has taken the NCAA national championship title in 1989, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2005 and 2007. Matt Seeberger, who graduated last spring, was the top-ranked singles player in the country while at UCSC.

Sammy the Slug doesn’t seem so timid anymore, now does he?

But UCSC has its fair share of problems when it comes to the strength of its school spirit.

Among these problems is funding. We don’t have the money or support to construct a venue for sports, and to attract fans from near and far.

Despite gaining some support from last spring’s Measure 31 referendum, which provides varsity teams with some funds, many teams are still forced to independently fundraise with booster clubs, ad sales, car washes and raffles.

UCSC’s athletic department operates on a miniscule budget of only $740,000, which may seem like a decent chunk of change, but only until you compare it with a USA Today study that found UCLA spent $49 million on its athletic programs in 2005 and 2006.

Another hurdle to school spirit is the decentralized nature of sports events at UCSC. We have a few separated venues for on-campus athletics, and many other sports have to hold games and even practices off campus. Due to the impressive size of our campus, athletic events are often difficult to find.

Without adequate funding and a centralized athletics complex, fans can seem difficult to come by, despite our athletes’ impressive achievements.

City on a Hill Press proposes a challenge to UCSC students — give school spirit a chance. It is an unrivaled feeling to help cheer your team to victory, and fan presence at events will give Slug athletes the extra push toward greatness.

You will not be disappointed.