Cheer Abounds at Mason: Fresh Interest in Spirit Groups Marks Start of Basketball Season
Posted: November 6, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
The Mason cheer groups are looking to the new Patriot Pep Band director, Michael Nickens, to create a more cohesive “spirit” on the court.
Photo by Rafael Suanes
By David Driver
The signs are everywhere.
At the end of Mason’s last basketball season, there were about 80 members of the Patriot Platoon, a student fan club.
Now there are nearly 300, says James Meyer, director of tickets and promotions for the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics at Mason who began the Platoon four seasons ago.
The coach of the Masonettes Dance Team saw an immediate increase in interest for her squad after the men’s Final Four run last spring.
“I am continuing to get a lot more inquiries from juniors and seniors in high school” who are interested in the team, says Michelle Chin, now in her fifth year as the dance team coach.
And this year, for the first time ever, the Patriot Pep Band director is a full-time faculty member. In the past, the pep band director was a student.
“This is a logical move for a school of this size,” says Michael Nickens, the new pep band director. “It is an inevitable part of the college experience. It is a rallying point.”
Patriot fever is catching.
Seasons Begin This Weekend
The momentum on campus is building: The men’s basketball team opens regular-season play Saturday, Nov. 11, at Cleveland State University. It will be first game for the Patriots since their loss to eventual national champion University of Florida in the semifinals of the NCAA Division I tournament last April in Indianapolis.
The Mason women’s team begins its season Sunday, Nov. 12, at the University of Maryland, the defending national champion that is returning most of its key players.
“We are really excited for the basketball season, as we are every year. It is very exciting now that the whole community is behind us,” says Ronnie Owen, the Mason Cheerleading Team coach.
Owen, a Mason graduate (BS ’99, BSN ’05) in her second season as head coach, was a cheerleader in 1999 when the men’s team advanced to the NCAA tournament before losing to the University of Cincinnati.
The Mason Cheerleading Team, above, and the Masonettes Dance Team, below, performed at Mason Midnight Madness.
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This season, she has 16 team members who will lead cheers at men’s basketball games, and another 24 cheerleaders used solely to energize the crowd for women’s hoop games.
Owen hopes to join the two groups for major men’s home games, such as the first regular-season contest in Fairfax on Nov. 18 against Wichita State University.
That game will be televised by ESPN2, and is a rematch of last season’s NCAA tourney contest.
“Our main concern and main focus is to cheer on our basketball teams,” says Owen, a nurse at Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge, Va.
“We are trying to spread around the Patriot Center. We want to increase crowd involvement during games, to get the crowd to yell with us rather than just watch. We have spent much of our time in practice concentrating on just this.”
The other “cheer group,” the 16-member dance team, will perform at all men’s home games, selected women’s home games and for both teams at the Colonial Athletic Association tournaments in March.
Mason plans to host a dance competition for local high schools in December, and divisional winners will get to perform at a Mason home game – which now carries more prestige and is a bigger incentive, says dance team coach Chin.
Groups Rally around New Pep Band Director
Both the cheerleading and the dance team coaches plan to work closely with the new pep band director.
“We are real excited about working with him,” says Chin, who feels that coordination between different cheer groups is easier with a faculty band director.
Nickens, the new pep band director, made his first appearance with the band at Mason Midnight Madness on Oct. 13. Not only does he bring style and enthusiasm to the position, but his academic credentials are sterling.
He graduated from West Potomac High School in Fairfax County; then earned a bachelor of music from the Manhattan School of Music with a tuba performance major and composition minor after transferring from James Madison University. He received a master of music from Yale University with a tuba performance major. This summer, Nickens received his doctor of music arts from the University of Michigan.
While he plans to teach two courses at Mason in the spring, for now his focus is strictly on the pep band.
“When we are doing our job correctly, the band becomes part of the team, and the crowd becomes part of the band,” says Nickens.
Meanwhile, Patriot Platoon director Meyer will be trying to squeeze all his members, some of whom joined during freshmen orientation, into the closest seats to the floor at the basket near the Mason bench.
In addition to getting these choice seats, Platoon members, who pay an annual fee of $20, receive a free gold T-shirt and a ticket to the CAA tournament in Richmond, and will have first shot among students for any possible tickets for postseason play in 2007.
As a bonus, Patriot Platoon members had dinner with coaches from the men’s basketball team at the end of last season. Platoon members can again expect free food prior to home games, adds Meyer.
For more information on the Patriot Platoon, contact Meyer at 703-993-3270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The basketball teams and the spirit groups rely on the “sixth man” – the fans – to help energize the arena.
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