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Sports & Fitness // Hot Air
Steve Murray

Arena Finally Getting An Attitude

Students do what they can to disrupt a Long Beach shooter | Jay Metzger photo

It’s been a search that has gone on longer than the hunt for Bigfoot, Jimmy Hoffa and a pass-first point guard quick enough to create off the dribble and hit from beyond 15. While some minor efforts have been tried over the years, not until this season has the hunt for a “real college basketball atmosphere” yielded any real result at Stan Sheriff Center.

Every coach within memory has tried to put a positive spin on the mediocre participation of a largely older fan base, whose money spends as well as those of their grandchildren, but offer nothing to enhance the atmosphere at an event that above all should be fun.

For the first time in a long time, it is.

No one wants derogatory attacks on family members, or the Stan Sheriff crowd to be mistaken for the sporting inhabitants of the City of Brotherly Love, but attitude is important.

Fan is short for fanatic, which means as a group they are people to be embraced and avoided. They live on the edge of honest enthusiasm and overwrought emotion, bringing with it a shared sense of pride and the joy of knowing they are kept behind a sturdy barricade to keep the rest of us safe.

Can the students be loud, even obnoxious, rude and, at times, inappropriate? Absolutely. But so what? They have an entire life ahead of forced conformity and the repression of free expression. Why limit their voice now?

As disagreeable as it may be to some older patrons, not all the commentary is bad.

Not all is printable either. “You are not relevant!” was a particularly enjoyable and learned comment to a Long Beach State player from a young lady in the front row. Her repeated taunts, and those of her cohorts, were easily identifiable throughout the game because of their high-pitched wail that gradually took on raspy tones, as overused vocal cords strained from the constant barrage of unpleasantries. It was, as a colleague noted, a siren call, though quite different from the love songs that kept Odysseus out too late.

Other harangues of enthusiasm included traditional questions of manhood, pain tolerance and referee competence that is probably better left unsaid in this family-friendly publication. I’m sure it won’t require much assistance to fill in the blanks.

That the arena has become the place to be didn’t happen by accident. Student attendance is the direct result of an uptempo playing style, face-to-face promotions in which players knock on dorm rooms to entice fellow students to attend games, and the choreography and promotional skills of the team’s London-born video-coordinator-turned-cheer-instructor, Jamie Smith.

At the beginning of the season, head coach Gib Arnold told his staff he wanted every home game to be a party, to make UH basketball the biggest event in town for students. Smith reappeared a few days later with an entire plan. Minus some corrections and a few additions, everything from Wig Night to ’70s Disco Night has been his creation, along with the scripted cheers he’s written and taught to the students. That they’ve done it with no marketing budget is even more impressive. Much of the money to pay for wigs, goofy glasses and other in-game promotional items came from carefully rearranging the team’s budget and the head coach’s pocket.

Has all this made the Fab Five irrelevant in the minds of local basketball fans? No. But it’s the most enjoyable arena atmosphere in years and the first step in creating a true college basketball culture in this football-crazy state.

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