Student fans are gearing up to be better and louder than ever for the upcoming basketball season. A stout and steady fan base consistently fills the Knapp Center with a beautiful collection of Bulldog blue and white. This year, the die-hards won’t be short on effort. A well-touted recruiting class, experienced sophomores and juniors, and lone senior Ryan Wedel lead the charge into this season.
After the first exhibition game and True Blue Debut, one would venture as far to say that despite the small size of the university, the fans are large in spirit. Self-proclaimed, “super fan” junior Peter Ryan has been a fan even before going here. He jumped on the Bulldog bandwagon during Drake’s NCAA tournament appearance in 2008.
“I was the only one in my house when [Drake] came back from being down 16 points in the last eight minutes of that game to put it into overtime,” Ryan said. “I was running around my house yelling and screaming.”
Drake eventually lost that game on a buzzer-beater in the overtime period, making it one of the most memorable NCAA games of the past decade.
What sets Drake apart from others is the active personal friendships the players have with other students on campus. Sophomore fan Brandon Balekos lives with sophomore forwards Aaron Hawley and Ben Simons and sophomore guard David Smith.
“Watching games on TV, you can say, those guys live with me,” Balekos said. “I play them in Xbox every day. It’s also cool to get to hear what goes on in practice as well as after games.”
For Balekos, the best part is watching his roommates with a big crowd behind him. Each game he heads in early to get a front row seat, even if it means waiting outside in the cold. That is something Simons respects about his roommate and the rest of the Drake fans.
“Obviously we don’t have the biggest gym, but I love it when we have students on both sides,” Simons said. “When we get to the Missouri Valley season there is rarely a game without it feeling full.”
Bulldog fans have many creative ways to show their spirit and one way is how they dress. During the 2009-2010 season, the team hosted a “white-out” for the Creighton game, and a “blue-out” for the Northern Iowa game. These campaigns urged students attending the game to dress in all white or all blue.
Ryan and his friends executed both the white-out and blue-out in their own specific way.
“We all painted our faces and some of our bodies white or blue for each game,” Ryan said. “For the white-out, I had a handprint on my face, another friend had a moustache, one had the ‘Braveheart’ style and, best of all, we painted one’s entire upper body in white.”
Ryan and his friends also utilized some very original chants, as well as old favorites. The classic “air ball” chant rings throughout the Knapp Center rafters on a regular basis.
“For all of those Pokémon fans out there, when Ryan Wedel goes up to shoot a free throw, we all chant Wedel [like the Pokémon Weedle],” Ryan said. “‘Wedel uses free throw…’ and when he makes it we say ‘It’s super effective!’ as a play off of the video game.”
The crowd’s focus isn’t entirely upon the home team. Their attention can always shift to humorous chants at the opposing team.
“One team had a more overweight coach with a sweater vest,” Ryan said. “He kept getting on the floor yelling at the refs. Every time he did we would yell ‘SWEATERVEST! SWEATERVEST! SWEATERVEST,’ until he got off of the floor.”
Fans across Bulldog nation will not let down their fervor during this upcoming season. It proves to be a promising year and the team will have its wild and crazy fans behind it.
Photo: Heather Boone