On the morning of Saturday, Sept. 22, the Gottwald atrium was scattered with laptops and cell phones. Less than 24 hours had passed since men's track and field team members heard that their team would be cut next year, but they were already bent over their supplies, talking strategy.
At first, when their coach said the team might be on the chopping block, sophomore Matthew Groff said they had simply been in shock. But when the rumors became official, their attitudes changed.
"As soon as we went into that meeting, we were in go mode," Groff said. "We gathered together and said, 'We need to get the word out.'"
Groff said he and some of his teammates had worked for 15 hours that Saturday, and by the end of their meeting, they had created a Facebook group and launched an online petition that was rapidly gaining signatures within the first eight hours. As of Tuesday, that Facebook group, "Save Richmond Indoor and Outdoor Track," had 1,958 members, and 11,155 people had signed the petition.
Oliver Murphy, a sophomore on the men's soccer team, told a similar story. "I got the idea to get something catchy started on Twitter," Murphy said, so at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, he created a new hashtag: #SaveSpiderSoccer.
The hashtag went viral, and by 5 p.m., it was trending throughout the city of Richmond. Not long after that, it was trending nationally, he said.
At the end of September, #SaveSpiderSoccer had been tweeted 1,500 times, generating 602,920 impressions and reaching 346,122 accounts, he said.
High-profile soccer players began re-tweeting the hashtag, as well. On Oct. 4, Dwayne De Rosario, a Canadian major league soccer player, tweeted, "What's up with all these schools cutting some sports out of their programs? Not good! Support the cause #SaveSpiderSoccer."
Rodney Marsh, a retired English footballer, wished the team good luck and included the hashtag.
Tom Mullen, a journalism professor who is currently teaching a seminar on social media, said tracking Twitter posts was one way to understand the reach of social media, and not just on college campuses.
"The interesting thing to me is non-college students -community members, are in on the social media action," he said. "They're posting, they're engaged."
Twitter hashtags may not be enduring, Mullen said, but social media outlets provide instant gratification for users who want to spread information.
"It's not just the speed of social media," he said, "it's the mobility of social media. You don't have to be sitting down. You can be walking around and access it on your phone or on your tablet."
The track and field team's Facebook group has become a place people can access on the go for updates and information about the team. On the group's page, you can find all of the information the track and field team has about the athletics department's decision, arguments against that decision, the team's statistics, advertisements and recent articles posted about the announcement, Groff said.
"Every time someone posts an article on our page, 2,000 people see it," Groff said. "2,000 people read it."
More recently, Richmond alumni who were on the men's track and field team have created another Facebook group, "We Are Richmond Track and Field," which features what some group members called professional-quality logos and advertisements created, not by hired professionals, but by the alumni themselves.
"We're really using all the tools Richmond has equipped us with to fight back," Groff said, with a smile. "It really is ironic."
Contact reporter Katie Branca at firstname.lastname@example.org