Jan. 19, 2009
24th Blog: The crew that helps make Monarch basketball fun for fans
By Brendan O'Hallarn
When I watch my team play basketball, I'm a nervous wreck.
My years as a journalist mean I can generally keep a straight face, but I live and die with each pass, shot and foul. When I'm at a game, I use the breaks in action to relax and enjoy the experience - to lessen the pressure a tiny bit from watching ODU play. I listen to the band, I watch the cheerleaders and dance team, I follow the goofy contests on the court and I especially love watching Big Blue run amok.
Well what about the people responsible for making sure the band plays, the dancers dance, the contests go off without a hitch and Big Blue doesn't COMPLETELY run amok? When do they relax?
Well, they don't.
During Saturday night's Drexel game, won handily by the Monarchs 71-48, I joined the crew responsible for game atmosphere for Monarch and Lady Monarch basketball. David Weisser, ODU Athletics' Director of Marketing and Promotions, oversees the group that helps complete the experience of going to a game at the Constant Center.
The events that happen when the game clock isn't running all fall under Weisser's purview. It's quite a show, but Weisser points out that it's not THE show. "With everything we do, it's important not to take away from the action that's happening on the court," he says. The game atmosphere time is the sideshow, not the circus. "That is my philosophy to a tee," he says.
Weisser graduated from the University of Tennessee, and came to ODU after internships at the University of Florida and University of Dayton. He says ODU does comparable game atmosphere with a fraction of the budget, because sponsorships in the Southeastern Conference are so much more lucrative.
Three graduate assistants help co-ordinate this circus sideshow - Diana Hurst, a former ODU varsity swimmer who's now doing her master's degree in sports management; Kelly Taylor, a master's of school counseling major from Syracuse, NY; and Matt Suttmiller, an MBA student from Chesapeake
There are a lot of balls in the air, and when everything goes perfectly, you don't notice the game atmosphere crew at all. "But you have to be prepared for anything," Hurst says. At a Lady Monarchs game recently, the video didn't play on the scoreboard. The video is the cue for the entire introduction to start, which is a complex process. There have been bigger mishaps. The lights went out at a game last year. One time at Florida, a spotter high above the court picked the wrong winner for a halftime contest, so Weisser got booed by 12,000 fans when he gave the prize to the other participant.
Arriving two full hours before tipoff, the crew splits up and makes sure the countdown goes smoothly. Weisser meets with the band and cheer team leaders, running through what songs they'll play, and what in what game breaks they'll occur. Again, this is stuff that I thought just happened, and I've been watching Monarch basketball all season.
Even something as simple as the kids who mop the floor during timeouts is a duty of the game atmosphere crew. "Sometimes it seems like there's nothing happening, but there's always something happening," Hurst says.
After player introductions, game atmosphere crew members have to make the blow up Monarch tunnel the players run through "disappear" by the time the lights come on. I helped with that, which was cool because you could see the energy and the passion in the players moments before they took the court.
Throughout the game, there was always some duty or another to help out with. I helped run the halftime shooting contest. I handed rolled-up t-shirts to Big Blue so he could shoot them into the crowd.
My favorite part of being on the crew? I got to wear a headset. Along with giving instructions to the band leader, the stadium music and video crew and the camera operators, Weisser and his team joke around throughout the game. I took some good natured ribbing, being referred to as Bloggy McBloggerson. I corrected that I'm in fact Bloggy O'Bloggerson.
And blog readers, you should know me by now. One more benefit of working on the game atmosphere crew? Fantastic seats.
I sat at the end of the officials' table, about three feet from excitable Drexel coach Bruiser Flint, making it extra important not to openly cheer for the Monarchs.
I lost my veneer of impartiality only once, clapping my hands together emphatically when Kent Bazemore finished a transition sequence with a vigorous, sidewinding dunk. I was terrified to look over in Flint's direction, given how, er, colorfully he had been exhorting his players.
Afterwards, Flint said he was disgusted with his team's effort.
"They kicked our butts today. We were awful. We didn't play with toughness today, bottom line. We had our chances. They just beat us to balls and knocked us down, picked it up and put it back in. That's what happens," he said.
ODU coach Blaine Taylor was clearly happier, with the result and the effort.
"We have a lot of respect for Drexel. Bruiser's teams are very scrappy, physical, handsy, fast, hard to compete against. I thought it was a very solid performance on our part
I think our kids really played hard start to finish," Taylor said
"What I like is the unselfishness. We have a real strong chemistry right now. They're not all worshipping the stat sheet. They're enjoying being a good team and having fun playing basketball with each other."
If it's conference play, it's another big week coming up for the Monarchs. After traveling to Delaware on Wednesday, ODU visits its closest geographic rival on Saturday night, the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. "Do we play them this week?" Taylor joked when asked about the game. It looms large in the conference standings, as each team starts the week tied for top spot in the CAA at 6-1, along with Northeastern and George Mason.
Old Dominion fans have already purchased the school's allotment of tickets, and several dozen hardy fans are planning to tailgate in the parking lot outside Kaplan Hall.
You know I'll be there, blogging. No headset, though.
Brendan O'Hallarn works in public relations for Old Dominion University
Brendan's Blog 46