It is just after 8 p.m. on Jan. 26. Eastern students packed the seats of the gymnasium, late-comers crowding the aisles, and nearly every one of these students is reading the latest issue of The Waltonian.
Well, sort of. The papers were passed out by members of “The 6th Man” to help EU fans actively show their disregard for the starting squad of Misericordia University’s men’s basketball team, and the students make good use of the opportunity by vigorously rustling Waltonians in front of their faces.
“The 6th Man” is a newly formed group that is attempting to change the atmosphere at men’s basketball games. Junior Tyler Griffith, a founding member of the group, along with juniors Adam Flora, Bryan Jones and Jeremy Morelock, said he and his friends have faithfully attended games over the past few years. However, Griffith felt that support for the team was weak and he started the group to change that.
“This year we just kind of went all out,” Griffith said.
Going “all out” includes lots of cheering, fan-created t-shirts and face paint. But that is not the only reason Griffith believes the group is catching on this year. “People just got excited about being a part of something,” he said. “That was a big key. There are a lot of freshman that are really excited about being involved.”
One such first-year is Jon-Michael Odean, another fan who helped create The 6th Man. Odean’s frustrations over the school’s lackluster athletic fans are similar to Griffith’s.
“What really drove it home for me was when I went to the volleyball championship game, and we had filled up the entire gym, except for a little section of the team we were playing,” he said, “and the team we were playing, which (had) this little section that was, I don’t know, like a fourth the size of us, were louder than all the Eastern fans.”
With upperclassmen and first-years coming together to show their support, there is a lot of room for growth. Morelock, in particular, is excited about the group’s future. “Right now we’re just trying to get 6th Man established,” he said. “Next year, we hope to actually do our big 6th Man year.”
“We definitely want to become school-sponsored,” Odean said, adding that sponsorship would help pay for supplies like face paint.
Becoming a more official entity would also be helpful for establishing rules about fan behavior, which can easily go from school-spirited to mean-spirited in an enthusiastic, competitive environment. “One of the key things that we as fans need to keep in mind is that we are representing what a Christian university is,” Griffith said. “On the whole, the 6th Man is representing what it is to be a Christian fan and yet still have a good time.”
On Jan. 26, The 6th Man lived up to its title, with fans making their presence felt throughout the game. Jones, in red face paint and a white t-shirt spray-painted with The 6th Man’s logo, sat in the middle of the group, exercising visible leadership by directing cheers and keeping others in check when they crossed the line of appropriate heckling.
First-year Dan Wonneberger played a unique role, dressing in a referee’s black and white jersey and constantly suggesting to the real officials that he “sub in” for them. “And both my eyes work!” he shouted after a questionable call.
Not only are fans finding that going to games and being rowdy can make for a great time, but the players themselves are appreciative of the extra support. Junior forward Jordan Decker, who described school spirit in previous years as “not present,” said the atmosphere at games had undergone “a totally different change from this year to last year.”
“6th Man definitely helped us win some games at home,” he said. “Tell them to keep up the good work.”