March 1, 2010
32nd Blog: We're all maniacs, but it takes work to be a Monarch Maniac
By Brendan O'Hallarn
My hamstrings are killing me. My voice is nearly gone.
I've been standing for two hours, shouting for the ODU Monarchs men's team as loud as I can. For the last home game of the year, against the hated VCU Rams, I'm sitting in the front row of the Monarch Maniacs cheering section.
My face is painted white, thanks to Mike Germann, one of the Ted Heads, who brought an air compressor to paint students' faces before the game.
I've chanted "Frank The Tank" after buckets by forward Frank Hassell, shouted "Leeeeeee" in unison with the students, while making a salute sign to our senior center Gerald Lee. I've spelled out M-O-N-A-R-C-H-S, made the "whoosh" sound when our guys made free throws, and I've just finished doing Ice Cream and Cake.
And yet, as junior forward Ben Finney lines up a long three-point shot with two and a half minutes to go, the Monarchs are trailing the Rams by two. Finney lets fly, and our whole section goes "AAAAAAAAAAH" as the ball arcs toward the basket.
That's the climax of my day as a Maniac. But it started four full hours earlier, when I arrived at the Ted. The student tickets for this game - our hated rivals the Rams in town, and Senior Day for Lee and Marsharee Neely - were gone weeks ago. But the Maniacs saved a seat in the front row for me.
Patrick Diggs and Nick Ley wanted to make sure they were in the front row as well. So they arrived at 5:30 a.m. on game day to take the first two spots in line to reserve their seats. The two never miss a home game.
"I feel like it's part of the university experience," says Diggs, a bachelor of fine arts-sculpture major from Goochland, Va. "If the guys on the team are going to put themselves on the line for us, the least we can do is come support them."
Diggs says he loves it when someone recognizes him away from the Ted, as "that guy on the scoreboard who sits in the front row." Ley says they've worked all year to try and get more Maniacs to join them at home games. "We'll tell people in the dorms, 'Hey, there's a game tonight, you've gotta go, it's free.' It's who we are. I am a Monarch," says Ley, a civil engineering student from Fairfax, Va.
Ley's comments cut off abruptly and he started yelling "Boooooo!" along with the other early arrivers in the student section. A few brazen VCU fans, wearing hated black and gold, start to make their way up the stairs to their seats in the middle of the ODU students.
"It's just not right. Who gave student tickets to those guys?" says Justin Shaw, a recent ODU graduate in political science who has his entire head painted blue, with stylized white bricks on each cheek.
For some home games, the Maniacs have had trouble attracting a full student section. Shaw says that the attention paid to football in the fall has distracted the attention of some ODU students, "particularly the ones who don't realize that we wouldn't have a football team if it wasn't for the success of our men's and women's basketball teams."
A full student section will not be a problem on this day. The doors are opened half an hour before the rest of the public is let in, and without reserved seats, students had to claim their spot early, with almost everyone wearing their white "Slam the Rams" t-shirt. By 3 p.m., the only available seats in the student section were way up top - or part of a row halfway down if we can convince the interlopers from VCU to leave.
A parent walks in carrying a baby in a yellow VCU jumper. We boo the baby, too. "He had a choice! He could have cried when they put it on him," one Maniac says. The hijinks are good-natured, and frankly, just a way to pass the time before tipoff.
"OK, do you know Ice Cream and Cake?" I'm asked, of the trademark dance done by Monarch fans. "Sort of," I say, and fumble through the first part, raising my hands and lowering them, while singing (badly) "Ice cream and cake and cake! Ice cream and cake and cake!"
Not much time to practice. Player introductions are about to begin.
Everyone gets a big cheer, but the loudest yells are saved for the graduating seniors. Scoreboard video of Gerald Lee's parents, who've made the trip from Finland for the game, makes the Maniacs go crazy.
It's loud from the opening tap. No more than a few seconds go by without a cheer being led by the first few rows of the student section - chants like We Are … Monarchs!, O! D! U!, or Dee-Fense! Then Gerald Lee hits a three-pointer from the top of the key to make it 9-4 ODU, and I think my ears are going to start bleeding from the noise. Deafening.
But the Rams aren't intimidated by the atmosphere. The game lives up to its billing. At no time does either team lead by more than six. We take a 39-35 lead into halftime after a slick pull-up jumper by Kent Bazemore. Our front line of Lee and Hassell has 25 of our 39 points, and is dominating VCU's star center Larry Sanders. But everyone in the Maniacs section kind of has the feeling the game will come down to the wire.
A quick sequence of a three-pointer by them, then a steal and lay-up plus a foul, and suddenly we're behind. And the worry in our section is palpable as VCU matches our scores, or grabs key defensive rebounds to keep them in front.
The Maniacs keep yelling. Aseem Rastogi, one of the student leaders of the Monarch Maniacs the past few years, says a full student section is a key part of ODU's home-court advantage.
"In the second half, the visiting team has to come down to their basket that is directly in front of the end zone where there are 1,500 students making as much noise as a 7-47," Rastogi says. That jumbo jet takes off right when Ben Finney's pivotal three-pointer finds the bottom of the net.
"WOOOAHHAHGH!! AAAANNGHHG!!! YAWAYWAYAAA!!!!!"
I don't know what I yelled. It was something primal. The release of an entire day's tension with one joyous, combined yelp by all of us.
The Monarchs followed with a steal and a Darius James layup to put us ahead by three. Then, with the outcome still in doubt, Finney stole a pass and we made the free throws to secure our 73-70 win. What a game!
The Monarchs, led by Coach Blaine Taylor, cut down a net to celebrate the team's regular season title. Taylor said: "We're saving the other net for the conference tournament in next weekend." In his press conference afterwards (I washed off my face paint before attending) Taylor paid tribute to the home crowd.
"I might be just a bit biased, but we've been in some doggone great atmospheres this year, but I don't think there's been any better than that one," he said. "What a showcase for everyone to look at our league and say 'Wow, what's that tournament going to be like?'"
"I thought Northern Iowa got loud, but that was way louder," said Lee, adding his last home game was doubly special because his parents could make the trip from Finland to be there.
"It's been great. The greatest thing was that my parents could make it over here. That made me so happy at the beginning of the game. When I walked on the court, I felt like this game was for them. And then the atmosphere was very good."
Very good indeed.
Brendan O'Hallarn works in public relations for Old Dominion University.
Brendan's Blog 46