It’s time for all Skyhawks to converge on Whalen Gymnasium.
If you haven’t heard, there’s a big basketball game Friday night at Fort Lewis College. The Whalen seats 2,220 fans, and the Fort Lewis College teams deserve the support of 2,200 for the first time in a long time.
No. 22 Colorado School of Mines will come into the ’Hawks nest seeking revenge and potentially a conference championship the Skyhawks kept from the Orediggers in the regular season and conference tournament a year ago in the same building in front of 1,842 fans.
No. 11 Fort Lewis does have great fan support and ranks second in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in attendance this year after finishing first a year ago. That comes from the community that has showed up to support the programs for decades. What’s missing is the student section. An organized student section, to be exact.
“We hope to have a big crowd,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “We need to have them actually participate in the games and be part of the game instead of just watching the game.
“I don’t know how to do it, but I think it’ll be a good enough game to where they’ll want to be loud and make a difference.”
Big-time college basketball is played at Fort Lewis by both the men’s and women’s teams. Over the past few years, Fort Lewis has been a bonafide basketball school. The men’s soccer team’s last national championship came in 2011, and they haven’t reached the NCAA tournament since. Those crowds have gone from more than 1,000 fans to a couple hundred, even for the biggest games on the schedule.
Yes, Fort Lewis is a basketball school now, and it’s time for the student body to act as such. First, they have to show up, and there’s no excuse not to thanks to free admission to any student with a valid FLC identification. The school couldn’t make it any easier.
But it’s not enough to show up.
Get organized, develop a few chants and get as loud as possible. Put your phone down, stand up and participate.
“Sometimes it gets really quiet in here, and that might be just because we’re ahead by a lot,” FLC senior guard Will Morse said. “Do we wish it was louder at times? Yeah, but we can only worry about what we can control.”
Fort Lewis had a few rowdy fans in recent years, but that behavior bordered on inappropriate, with most of their focus going toward the referees and a few personal jabs at specific opposing players. There’s a way to organize and let your voice be heard while keeping it classy. All it takes is a handful of dedicated students to organize and get creative. The rest will follow your lead.
If there was ever a time to do it, Friday is the night. The men’s and women’s games will be broadcast on Altitude 2 for the entire state and region to watch. The first 2,000 fans through the door will receive a white T-shirt as part of a “whiteout” promotion. There shouldn’t be a single shirt leftover.
“My hope is that we’ve got a great crowd that’s energized,” FLC women’s coach Jason Flores said. “It’s on TV. We have passionate support for basketball in this community, and that’s something to show people. A lot of people from a lot of places are watching this game, and I hope they see the crowd there and know we’re a basketball school.”
The FLC women deserve support, too. Aside from the “Yocky’s Yo-Yos,” a shirtless crew that comes in support of star sophomore forward Alyssa Yocky, the women’s crowds have been dead. The women have a very talented team and are among the best teams in the conference.
“We want to play well, not just for us,” Flores said. “We want the crowd charged up coming off our game so they’re ready for the men’s game, because that’s such a big game. It’s the game in town, so let’s go.
“Us and the men’s program have players who have pride in Fort Lewis College. Pride in Durango. It means something to them. We sing the fight songs after wins. Our players love it here and love Fort Lewis. They are kids to get behind because they represent Fort Lewis with all their heart.”
This season’s highest men’s basketball attendance was 1,823 for the conference opener against CSU-Pueblo. Last year, 1,842 showed up to the conference championship game against Colorado Mines, a thrilling one-point win by the Skyhawks.
With renovated bleachers that have cut the capacity from 2,700 to 2,200 to provide a more comfortable fan experience, there’s no reason not to sell out the gym this week. The addition of a growing and talented cheer squad also has enhanced the fan experience, and that team deserves the support of the student body, too.
Come early, stay late. Embrace your role as a basketball school, and start a tradition Friday that can carry on to the next generation of FLC students.
“We’ve gotten great support from this town, and we appreciate that. But if we can get this student section rocking, I think that’s worth some points,” Pietrack said.
In a game like this, a few points can make the difference in a winning or losing a championship.
John Livingston is the sports editor at The Durango Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jlivi2.