BY LAFE PEAVLER
Championship day at the WCC Tournament lived up to the billing as the conference’s two biggest fan bases that made the trip to Vegas and faced off with the championship on the line — while BYU fans outnumbered any other team they played in the WCC Tournament right up until they played Gonzaga. There was plenty of Cougar and Bulldog fans around, and once again many were kind enough to spend some time with me.
I had just gotten off the shuttle to Orleans Arena when someone spotted my Deseret News shirt and asked me about it. Richard and Mary Burr had made the trip all the way from Alberta, Canada, to see their Cougars play, and not just the men’s team. They had arrived for the earlier women’s title game.
“We enjoy watching them,” Richard Burr told me. “It’s too bad they don’t have more fans going to the game. It really should be supported just as much (as the men’s team).”
The Cougars could learn a thing or two from Gonzaga fans about supporting the women’s team. I happened to run into Fred Redmon, father of Gonzaga’s Jasmine Redmon and a high school basketball coach, after the game. Speaking of his daughter, he said, “I coached her when she was a little kid and all through high school. So, it’s been a good ride for me to see her finish her career as she has.” He also praised the Bulldog fan base for supporting the team. “They have no problem filling up that arena, and when you travel around the WCC and go to other schools, they travel well. They often outnumber fans of the other team.”
That was certainly the case as Gonzaga went on to dominate the Cougars in the women’s championship game. One fan in the crowd even had a blow-up of Jamine Redmon’s head, and Fred Redmon had a good laugh about it. “I think it’s pretty cool. There’s something for the fans to get into. It helps the comradery.”
After the women’s game, I ran into some Utah State fans looking to get tickets to watch BYU play. They were in town to watch their Aggies play in the MWC Tournament. Dana Leishman has been a fan for close to 50 years, and he was optimistic about Utah State’s future in the MWC. “Give us a few years, and we’ll be challenging for a top spot,” he said with a smile.
I also happened across a few members of the ROC, the BYU student section. Garrett McClintock was one of the die-hard fans who had been on the front row of every single home game. “I think the best thing about being a BYU fan is how creative the student section is,” he told me. “We come up with so many different cheers, but none of them are vulgar or personal.” When I asked the group what their favorite cheer was, all of them responded, “Whoosh, Cecil!” I asked them if they would keep up that tradition now that BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson had been released, and they all said yes. “’Whoosh, Cecil’ is staying as a memorial,” Joel Brandon Richards of the ROC told me. “As for me and my house, we will ‘Whoosh, Cecil!’”
I also talked with many remarkable Gonzaga fans. Jim Quinlan graduated from Gonzaga back in 1975, and he still remembers with fondness the team that put the Bulldogs on the map. “When Gonzaga made it to the Elite Eight — that was the first Gonzaga team that went any distance in the tournament at all. A bunch of no-name players who came from nowhere at all.” He also had some kind things to say about BYU. “They belong. They’ve been a great program. They had Danny Ainge, who made that final shot against Notre Dame. I think we appreciate having another religious school in the conference.”
Fans from BYU and Gonzaga both cheered loud and proud at the game, but the Bulldogs came away with the championship sweep. Regardless, this has been a wonderful week for me to talk and cover how awesome fans are. I would like to say thank you to all of those who spent time talking to me all this past week. I’ve met so many wonderful fans from all over the conference, and I came away from Las Vegas with many wonderful memories after meeting so many die-hard fans.
My experience at the WCC Tournament has validated my reasons for starting the Sports BLT. As I’ve long maintained, fans a truly awesome. They make events like the WCC Tournament a fantastic event.
Lafe Peavler is a sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.
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