Bring on the Fans

                I am writing this blog on the eve of the men’s national championship game.  It’s the battle of the “K’s”, with Kentucky a heavy favorite over the local Kansas Jayhawks.  Sam, my 12-year old son is gearing up for the game.

                You would think Sam would be a Kansas supporter.  In 2008, he actually shed tears when the Jayhawks trailed Memphis by nine points late in the game.  He almost ruined the sofa springs, jumping up and down when Mario Chalmers hit a 3-point field goal at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.  I thought he would rap toilet paper around the light fixtures in our house when Kansas finally secured the win.

                You would think Sam would be shouting, “Rock, chalk, Jayhawk” from the rafter tonight.  However, Sam is a front runner and Kentucky is his pick for tonight’s game.   Amazingly, he has agreed to begin his homework at 7:00 so he won’t miss a single dribble or slam dunk.  Sam even talked his mother into blue face paint.  At least we won’t have to beg him to shower tonight.

                Sam’s enthusiasm is very strong for the Northwest basketball teams, no matter the record.  He did accept a Missouri Western shirt from Ryan Menley if he cheered for their 2007 MIAA Conference Championship game against his father’s team.  I have since forgiven him for that grievous error.  However, it sometimes takes promotions to get college students to the games.

                Winning is always the best promotion.  College students are like Sam that way; everyone likes a sure-thing.  Once in a while it takes a gentle nudge that a promotion provides.  Northwest has a great promotion man in Nate Davis.  I never had to worry about promotions in my 13 years at Northwest.  That wasn’t true at Doane College, an NAIA school in Nebraska.  As with most NAIA schools, the head coach assumes most roles including promotion chief.

                One promotion that really gave encouragement to a little lawlessness was “Biker Night.”  The best “Biker Night” ever was a non-conference game against the number one team in the nation, Briar Cliff.  The Cliff was really good and we needed a little boost to stay in the game.  “Biker Night” was my ace in the hole.

                Since my promotion budget was tiny, I had to find a way to pass the word about a night where out-law bikers would be permitted in the basketball arena.  Not only permitted but encouraged by the promise of valuable prizes for the best, rowdiest bikers.  I think we had a gift certificate for a pizza or two, but if you are a starving college kid, that was valuable.

                Doane College provided a great way to get the word out to the student body.  Almost all my players were in one of two sororities.  I forget the sorority’s names, but one wore brown coats and one wore yellow coats.  These organizations were locally sponsored and not under any national Greek code of conduct.  That was good because I wanted poor conduct to distract our talented opponents.

                I got what I wished for.  The sororities told the fraternities and word spread among the independents.  With the promise of women in leather and men showing chest hairs, who wouldn’t want to come to the game?  It was a Saturday night game, so all the college kids had plenty of time to adjust their attitudes toward biker mentality.

                It was one of the greatest, loudest, rowdiest atmospheres in my 15 years at Doane College.  It got so loud that a Briar Cliff player air-balled a free throw.  It was an important point in the game, so Mike Power, the Briar Cliff coach, called a time-out to calm down his shaken free throw shooter.  She still missed the second.

                Unfortunately, it all went for naught as the Chargers bolted past the lower ranked Tigers that night.  It was a tough loss to take, but I have to admit, I wish I had thought of Biker Night sooner.  Why waste it on Briar Cliff when we could inflict the same damage to our arch rival, Nebraska Wesleyan?

                There was one more successful “Biker Nights” of sorts.  It happened on Senior Night.  One of the senior’s parents belonged to a biker club.  It was a well behaved biker group that included mostly middle age men with really powerful machines.  The idea was to sneak the motorcycles in the gym, hide them behind a curtain, and introduce the seniors as they rode in on their Harley’s. 

                It was snowing the night of the game, but we got enough bikers and their cycles to bring in all the seniors.  What I didn’t know was the parent who organized the bikers, also planned to bring them on with fireworks.  He didn’t clear it with me or anyone.  We were very lucky there was no sprinkler system in the gym.

                Also, no fire alarms went off, but we played the first half in a fog of lingering smoke.  I can’t say the opposing coach was too happy, but it still was great.  Do you know what a Harley sounds like as its engine is revving inside an enclosed arena?  It was fantastic.  We did win this game.

                A friend of mine, Gene Schupan, had a great idea for a promotion.  It was a musical promotion and it had real possibilities.  The average crowd at a Doane game back in the 1990’s was about 500.  Gene wanted to pass out a kazoo to everyone who attended the game. 

                A kazoo is a short instrument you hum into and you get a buzzing noise.  He dream was to have 500 kazoos learn to play two songs while the teams warmed up.  First, he wanted them to play the National Anthem.  I was very afraid the crowd would butcher it as badly as had Rose Ann Barr at a San Diego Padres baseball game.  Then, the pep band would teach the crowd to play the Doane fight song. 

                That was one great promotion.  I gave Gene the green light for “Kazoo Night.”  Unfortunately, “Kazoo Night” was shelved for budgetary purposes.  It was just too expensive to buy that many kazoos and we couldn’t find a sponsor to buy them.  It would have been something to hear, though.

                I had to save the best promotion for last.  This event didn’t bring a whole lot of extra people, but it was way off the charts in imagination.  The event was “Toast on a Stick Night.”  I have to give you a little background.  When David Letterman, the late night talk show host, was creating his reputation with the Late, Late Show, he had a special event every Thursday night called Toast on a Stick Night.

                I personally never saw the show.  It came on at 11:30 or midnight, and I guess I just missed the Thursday night fun.  However, a student who was the president of the Young Republicans hosted a group of loyal David Letterman fans every Thursday late night.

                I should have guessed this college kid had a screw loose since he thought Richard Nixon was a great president, anyway when he wasn’t covering up burglaries.  If I gave the group a little money, they would buy bread at a day-old shop, toast the bread at the Doane cafeteria, and put the toast on lollypop sticks.  A few of the sticks would be specially marked and the lucky fans to get those particular pieces of toast would win valuable prizes (pizza). 

                At half time, the Young Republicans would be in charge of the halftime entertainment.  It would feature a Toast Dunking Contest.  I almost skipped my halftime speech to watch that event.  These young followers of Tricky Dickie (Nixon) even volunteered to sweep the floor before the unsuspecting players started second half play.

                Despite being a liberal Democrat myself, I almost voted for Ronald Reagan because of the success of the Toast on a Stick Night.  We even did it a second time.  Unfortunately, this imaginative student graduated and went on to lead a conservative cause somewhere.  I wonder if he still watches Letterman?

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Gene Steinmeyer

About Gene Steinmeyer

Gene Steinmeyer coached the Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball team for 13 seasons before retiring after 26 years as a collegiate head coach after the 2011-12 season. He retired as the second winningest women’s basketball coach at Northwest as his 2010-11 team won both the MIAA Regular Season and Tournament Championship advancing to the NCAA National Semifinals one game shy of the national championship game.