Malika Andrews |
Pilot basketball supporters have settled into mediocrity, becoming so complacent in the stands during games that it's more appropriate to call them "bystanders" than "fans." As the home game against Gonzaga approaches, I find myself wanting to compete — not on the court, but in the crowd.
When the Bulldogs come to town, they bring a long-standing tradition of winning. Before 2014, Portland hadn’t taken down the Bulldogs in 20 years. But Gonzaga also has a less-examined tradition of dominating in the stands, miraculously transforming the Chiles Center into an extension of Spokane’s famed Kennel. (Thursday's game will take place in Portland but it might very well feel like a road game thanks to Gonzaga's diehards.)
Portland faced similarly adverse circumstances when BYU came to Chiles. The box score listed a sellout, but it felt as though 75 percent of that crowd supported the Cougars. The rafters echoed with chants of “Let’s go Cougs” and the Cougar cheers were louder than any Pilot cheers heard in any game all season.
The players notice.
“Their fans are louder when they're getting their starting lineup named (and) when we go it's quieter,” junior starting point guard Alec Wintering said. “But I take it as, 'Let's shut them up during the game.'"
There have even been times this season when the public address announcer said, “Welcome back your Portland Pilots,” and the crowd responded with silence. No audible clapping. Nothing.
For those who have not yet been to a game against Gonzaga, Bulldog fans swarm us, blanketing the purple seats of Chiles in red and muffling Portland pride. For those unfamiliar with the Bulldog’s zombie nation tradition, Zag fans bring it to Portland. The essence of their student section, “Crazy in the Kennel," makes the trek in from Eastern Washington, setting a loud tone and drowning out Pilot supporters.
“It would be nice to have more UP students than Gonzaga fans here," Wintering said.
Can you blame the team for calling on its fans to show up?
The student section this season has been weak. At the game against BYU, athletics recorded 498 students in attendance, but I would guess only 20 were on their feet yelling. Only four half-full rows of students stood during a game against Santa Clara, one Portland was favored to win. And they stood silently.
Don't pin this only on the students, who take up only one of the five sections of seats in the Chiles Center. Everyone can do better. Clapping politely doesn’t cut it. No, there is no need to be rude and scream obscenities. But it is necessary to get up for your school.
Yes, it would be easier to support a winner. The Pilots are below .500. No NCAA title banners hang in the gym. We do not have Tent City. Portland hasn't made an appearance in the Big Dance since 1995.
But the Pilots are still out there fighting. When Wintering is announced as a starter, the floor should shake. The crowd should get as excited when Phillip Hartwich hammers a dunk as it does when the mascots throw out free T-shirts. Don't make the dance team do all the work: Everyone can cheer "Let’s go Pilots."
Imagine how discouraging it must be when home court feels nothing like home.
"It puts a chip on their shoulder,” head coach Eric Reveno said. “The reality is (that crowd support) really helps. I’m embarrassed to say that I think sometimes our guys need that help.”
The Pilots are asking for help. Will you?
Malika Andrews is the sports editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @malika_andrews