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Princeton Athletics needs to make every game a Hometown Heroes game

princeton stadium
Princeton University Stadium.  
Joe Shlabotnik / Flickr

On Oct. 2, the home stands for the Princeton football game against Columbia were jam-packed with people. From an amateur’s eye, it looked like what was the most well-attended non-homecoming game football had ever hosted.

Certainly, this was in part because the game was meant to honor “Hometown Heroes”: the University dining hall and maintenance staff, first responders, and other essential workers that guided us safely through the pandemic. Each person was awarded four free tickets, and wow, did they attend in droves.


Nearly all sporting events at Princeton are free admission, with the exception of men’s and women’s basketball and ice hockey, men’s lacrosse, wrestling, and football. This means that the University can afford to handle the economic impact of forgoing admission at many sporting events.

So, why not offer free admission — or even admission by donation — for all “hometown heroes” at every ticketed Princeton game?

A cursory internet search reveals that the State of New Jersey minimum wage is approximately $12. Football tickets for adults are $15 in advance and $20 same-day. Upon reviewing ticket prices for the football games, it becomes obvious that each ticket would cost a person earning minimum wage over one hour’s worth of labor for an average athletics event. This means that if the person making minimum wage has a family of four, then it would take more than half of a day’s pay to go to a single game. Those minimum-wage workers include, but are not limited to, the dining hall staff at Princeton, grocery store cashiers and workers across the region, and maintenance crews across campus, according to the job service site Glassdoor. 

Providing free admission — or reduced admission — for these people would be an eloquent and revolutionary nod to their love and dedication. It would also give their families, especially children, an opportunity to see the University as more than just a parent’s workplace or a castle tucked away on the hill. This exposure is important, as it humanizes Princeton and for some may present it as a potential post-secondary goal.

Furthermore, Princeton isn’t making any money off of the empty seats anyway. Jadwin Gymnasium, for example, seats around 7,000 — so why not fill those seats for games? Even better, why not fill those seats with the most important citizens in our society and the people who so dearly love Princeton athletics and our students? If Princeton can’t stand to make the admission free to “hometown heroes,” then make it a one-dollar donation. If this pulled 250 more people to a game for a regular basketball season of 14 games, then the program would make $3,500 more each season — just by charging only a dollar for admission for the “hometown heroes.”

Princeton athletics easily provides free admission for its students for all games ticketed and unticketed. Although we contribute to the school academically, I am yet to see a student work as hard to ensure the health, happiness, and safety of Princeton in the same way our hometown heroes do.


Really, Princeton must determine where its priorities lie. Was the single “hometown heroes” game with free tickets just a symbolic gesture for the media fanfare and the social media brand, or is this a true recognition of the devotion of the life-savers, the life-improvers?

These workers wake at obscene hours in cities far away from Princeton, handle public transit before dawn, and arrive on campus to make our meals and clean our spaces. Other workers keep our power working, our devices charged, our plumbing flowing, and our homes safe. There are workers who willingly charge into burning buildings to save our houses and loved ones. They tirelessly perform CPR on the most recent victim of a Route One traffic accident. These people stand for eight hours to check and bag your food at the grocery store.

I certainly haven’t seen any administrators of Princeton disembarking NJ Transit before dawn to come sweep the halls of the dorms.

These essential workers, emergency responders, “hometown heroes,” — they are colleagues, friends, and neighbors who have gone above and beyond in the most critical of times to care for and help us. They deserve to not have to sacrifice half a day’s wages to take their family to a game.

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These people making minimum wage, who work daily to improve our lives, are the same people who packed the stands so fervently earlier this month and helped everyone survive the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They would support Princeton in a heartbeat — Princeton, it is time that we support them back.

Sally Jane Ruybàlid is a member of the Class of 2022 in the School of Architecture from Trinidad, Colorado. She can be reached at