Volleyball Day in Nebraska and the power of shared experience

Bonding over common interests, creating shared memories, and leveraging our social connections strengthens the fabric of our communities, our states, and our nation.

In case you were completely off the grid and missed it, Nebraskans set a world record Wednesday night. Volleyball Day in Nebraska summoned 92,003 fans to watch a pair of matches at Memorial Stadium, including No. 5 Nebraska’s three-set sweep of UNO. In terms of stagecraft, the spectacle that unfolded inside the 100-year-old structure was something to behold. The atmosphere was electric, engaged, even raucous at times – but most of all, joyful.
As the team later shared on its official social media: “There is NO PLACE like Nebraska.” After Wednesday night, that’s quite clear – and it speaks well of our state’s civic health.
Husker fans have always been deeply loyal to the Big Red, of course: Regardless of the sport, we show up. A visiting broadcaster once remarked that you could hold a Husker game on the Moon and a thousand folks in red would find a way to get up there (they were only half-joking).
Why is Nebraska unique in this realm? This question has been asked repeatedly over the years as sellout streaks, takeovers of rival stadiums, and attendance records are inevitably colored red. Answers range from the idealistic (“We’re really special here”); the traditional (“It’s just what we do here”); to the dismally cynical (“There’s nothing else to do here”). Like all mass-scale happenings, all three have elements of truth to them, but none of them represents the whole truth.
Nearly everyone who reflected on the event – from NU fans on social media all the way up to Coach John Cook during a post-match news conference – struggled to find words to express what everyone was feeling inside Memorial Stadium on Wednesday evening, with a supermoon in the sky and Big Ten Network announcers marveling at both our team’s play and our fan support. While adequate words were hard to come by, the feeling was clear: August 30, 2023, was a positive shared experience.
Positive shared experiences fortify our feelings of belonging. They connect us more tightly. They enhance our sense of meaning and purpose. They inspire us to achieve on behalf of the whole. And perhaps most importantly, positive shared experiences ripple outward with powerful effects on our community writ large.
Such experiences are also potent in sustaining and strengthening democracy – democracy as a social construct, in the tradition of philosophers like John Dewey. In an everyday sense, positive shared experiences rarely come in the form of prime-time athletic showcases, yet they sustain democracy through ever-expanding, meaningful connections among citizens. Every day, we Americans bond over common interests. We create new shared memories. And little by little, we leverage those connections to strengthen the fabric of our communities, our states, and our nation.
Shared experiences build social capital among citizens, and are the most potent anti-venom to Bowling Alone, sociologist Robert Putnam’s seminal work about the decline of the public square in the United States. Technology, media, and other factors have led to a growing disconnect among family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic institutions. But positive shared experiences – participating in common events, facing common challenges, or celebrating shared values – foster a sense of common identity that pays dividends in difficult times.
This can protect us against the fatal divisions and internal conflicts that have led some nations to permanently splinter. Positive shared experiences remind us, sometimes dramatically and emphatically, that we are more alike than we are different. Let’s put it this way: Very few of us inside Memorial Stadium identified as Democrats or Republicans. Overwhelmingly, we were Nebraskans.
This bond was on full display, serving as a reminder to our nation that despite our differences, we still can, and still will, come together under a common cause – and then, we’ll carry on together. Of all the reasons to cheer, that’s the one that stands out the most.

Related Articles

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


After School Programs

  • Sherman Elementary School

    5618 N 14th Ave.
    Omaha, NE 68110

  • Lewis and Clark Middle School

    6901 Burt St.
    Omaha, NE 68132

  • Lothrop Magnet Elementary

    3300 N. 22nd St.
    Omaha, NE 68110

  • Campbell Elementary School

    2200 Dodge St.
    Lincoln, NE 68521

  • Lincoln High School

    2229 J St.
    Lincoln, NE 68510

  • Lincoln Northeast High School

    2635 N. 63rd St.
    Lincoln, NE 68507