By Olivia Tattory
Fans, at times responsible for making or breaking a team, are an integral part in any athletic experience. And so, according to four students, thanking them once in a while is never a bad idea.
The “6th Man Appreciation Day,” planned for Saturday night in the Rider Pub immediately following the men’s basketball team home opener against Delaware, began as a collaboration between seniors Theresa Androvett, Jessica Holland, Aimee Schiller and Matt Hanson, as a class project for their event-planning course.
“It really started as just a brainstorming session between [group members],” said Schiller, a senior marketing major. “One of us had the idea about having an event in the pub and me and [Holland], being athletes, thought of tying in the athletic side of it.”
According to Karen Torchia, associate director of athletics, Saturday’s event is a time for the Athletic Department, student athletes and coaches to thank students, faculty and alumni for their support throughout the sports seasons.
Although “6th Man Appreciation Day” is scheduled during the basketball season, it is really for all the sports teams and the Athletic Department as a whole.
“We’re hoping everybody will come out and get excited for the season,” said Torchia. “We really try to encourage students to wear Rider’s colors to the games and so we’ll be giving out free 6th man T-shirts. It’s a way for [athletics] to say thank you for being there and supporting us.”
School spirit and Rider pride are things the University community doesn’t see much of. Some speculate it could be the fact that there is no football team, which has successfully brought fans together at other universities. Others say it’s because of the University’s reputation as a “suitcase school,” where most students head home for the weekends.
According to women’s head basketball coach and alumna Lynn Milligan, the atmosphere at Rider is “better and more involving” than when she was a student.
“A lot more people are working to see the athletes succeed, and students and faculty seem to be more interested in the teams and their outcomes,” said Milligan. “I also think the students want to support the teams a lot more than in the past.”
Milligan said the support after the Nov. 9 win against Monmouth was tremendous and if the Broncs could get that response for the rest of the season “it’d be great.”
Torchia is hoping basketball fans will make it to the game on Saturday and head over to the pub afterward for finger food, raffles, contests and mingling among other fans. With T-shirt popularity having grown in the last few years, Torchia is sure that people will at least show up for them — if nothing else.
Torchia emphasized that those who do support the athletic teams have been known for providing a positive sports environment for the student athletes, officials, fans and visiting teams.
“Fans at our home events have been great throughout the years and we wouldn’t have been able to generate the success we’ve achieved without them,” Torchia said in an e-mail.
College football followers may remember Rutgers football fans’ unsportsmanlike conduct earlier in the season. Rutgers president Richard McCormick apologized to the Naval Academy for fan behavior during the Sept. 7 game, in a press conference with the athletic director and other university officials. This obviously brought negative attention and publicity for Rutgers, which according to Torchia, is exactly what Rider wants to avoid.
And so, in order to maintain the athletic excellence Rider is known for, the University adheres to the MAAC and NCAA standards by reading the sportsmanship statement over the public address system prior to each game, said Torchia.
The event, primarily to thank the fans, will also benefit the sports teams.
Getting the fans involved with their season is something that is instrumental in boosting a team’s morale, said senior power forward Jason Thompson of the men’s basketball team.
“With all the negative stuff that’s been going on around campus, and with the basketball team trying to have a successful year, I think it’s great to have a positive feel for the entire community,” said Thompson. “It should definitely be a good time, and for [the basketball team] to be able to support our fans, it’s really exciting.”
The men’s team lost its season opener last Friday against Murray State 66-65. Projected to finish third in the MAAC this season by SI.com and CBS.sportsline.com and are expected to trump last season’s record.