Student sections manage to keep things fresh
It's the only place where Batman high-fives Larry the Cable Guy, a kid in spandex chest-bumps another in jorts, and Santa Claus does the roller coaster — all before halftime.
It's the student section at a high school basketball game, where costumed craziness meets school spirit halfway, and organized noise takes the baton for the final lap.
"It's just crazy enthusiasm," said senior Matt McClure, the unofficial leader of Plum's rowdy student section. "We do the roller coaster, and we think ours is the best. We have various other things we do, too."
The roller coaster is a modern, more confined version of the wave, with rows of students raising their arms and swaying as if on a coaster ride.
From wigs and masks, to face-paint and hard hats, Plum's "Mustang Maniacs" will go to extremes to rattle opposing teams.
The same is true of Fox Chapel's section, which came out in full force Friday night in a home game against Plum.
Costumes were abundant and varied, from a cow to a referee to a construction worker to a fireman, cowboy and Buddy the Elf — among others.
"I was looking for Ernie and finally saw him," Fox Chapel boys coach Zach Skrinjar said. "I think I saw two Berts."
Plum and Fox Chapel students exchanged messages on Facebook and Twitter throughout last week as a build-up to Friday night's girls-boys doubleheader in O'Hara Township.
Fox Chapel's section is known as "Skrinjar's Ninjas," with a nod to the coach, of course.
"It's great what they do," Skrinjar said. "They really represent the school well and support us."
Plum changes clothes mainly for home games.
"Some of us wear yoga pants," McClure said. "This year, spandex body suits are popular.
"I wore a denim jacket and jean shorts and had my hair spiked up one game."
In a tip-off tournament game earlier this season, Plum's section jeered Highlands star Micah Mason, with a student dressed as Santa leading the loud charge:
"No. 22 is on the naughty list."
"We had to try and get on him," McClure said. "But he just looked at us and smiled."
At Knoch a tradition-wielding pep band vibrates the walls of the gymnasium, adding to the atmosphere the student section helps create.
"Our student section has been an integral part of Knoch basketball for a very long time," Knoch boys coach and athletic director Josh Shoop said. "Even through some of the tough years, the students still come out, and they bring a lot of energy. I haven't seen many schools that bring out the number of kids that we get at our home games."
St. Joseph is one of the smallest schools in the state but has a resounding and colorful student section eager to storm the court at the Walter Dublak Center.
"The 204," named after the number of students in the school last season, thrives on themes, like the best sections do.
"Their theme nights have included beach party, pajama night, toga night, paper bag night, and others," St. Joseph boys coach Kelly Robinson said. "On pajama night, they take a 'nap' during the game. Everyone in the gym stops watching the game for the few minutes when they all lay down in the 204 and lean against each other to nap. Then, the whole gym cracks up when their alarm goes off, and they start slowly waking up and stretching.
"Seeing a whole student section wearing all sorts of pajamas, bath robes and slippers is a sight to see."
McClure assures that Plum takes an all-in-fun approach to fanatical antics.
"Other student sections take it too far and get thrown out," he said. "We don't cross the line. Our athletic director is there watching us."
Robinson said he's seen referees chuckle at some of the 204's clowning.
"You can't help but laugh when, instead of screaming 'you suck' at referees, they instead say calmly 'I respectfully disagree,'" Robinson said.
Student sections are known for basic chants, such as, "we can't hear you," or "you can't do that," or for prematurely counting down the final seconds on the game clock.
It's the themes and outfits that set some apart.
McClure said many of the outlandish outfits are purchased cheaply at second-hand stores.
"Some of us wear our old baseball uniforms," he said. "It's stuff we buy at Goodwill or just random stuff lying around the house."
Knoch doesn't permit masks indoors, but that doesn't stop the fans from concealing their identity.
"I would rather see the kids be extremely vocal and not wear any crazy costumes than the other way around," Shoop said. "We get the kids in the blue or green spandex suits, but like I said, when they enter the school, they have to take the part that covers their faces off. I have always chuckled when we go to Hampton, and they have three or four kids dressed in gorilla suits, turtles and I think I saw a gecko one time."
McClure was regognized during football season as a Comcast "Fan of the Game," when Plum played Highlands.
"We stormed the field that night," McClure said.
Sometimes, particularly in blowout games, fans focus on the student sections more than the games.
But many teams rely on the roughneck behavior of the student body to rouse the visitors.
"There are some nights that the team needs a little help getting into the game, and our student section helps bring out the best in our players," Shoop said. "As a coach and administrator, I am always proud to see the number of kids that come out to support their peers."
As for the band, with its familiar clashing cymbals, Knoch treasure a rarity that used to be popular across the state.
"It wouldn't be a Knoch basketball game without the pep band," Shoop said.
And it wouldn't be A-K Valley hoops without student sections.
A-K Valley's top basketball student sections:
Plum — Organized and on ballot for best-dressed.
Fox Chapel — Strength in numbers and costumes.
Freeport — Makes it hard to breathe for opponents in tight quarters.
Knoch — Complements pep band well.
St. Joseph — Some themes tough to beat.