This is the second post in a three-part series about fans and Golden Grizzlies basketball. The previous installment is linked below in the first paragraph. The third will arrive shortly, detailing the holy grail of college basketball fanaticism: rushing the court.
In the last post, I talked a lot about the way in which people become Golden Grizzlies fans. At the center of this discussion is the fact that most people end up chanting "Let's Go Grizzlies" because of the circumstances tied to educational choice as opposed to socialization or location. While this idea alone doesn't describe the way in which each and every OU fan became such, I would argue it is true of a distinct majority. Even with that said, there has been a shift in this paradigm over the last decade or so, and one that will only continue to change as the university grows.
Oakland University transitioned to Division 1 only in the late 1990s, meaning that there are only about a decade's worth of graduates who are truly Golden Grizzlies. With no offense to all of the fans and supporters who left OU as Pioneers, there is a certain level of association that comes from being a part of something as it happened. Therefore, even the earliest Golden Grizzlies, those graduating between 1998 and 2002, are just now hitting their early thirties. For many, the early thirties means settling down and buying a home, marriage and children, and promotions and raises. Additional income and stability means more opportunities to support an alma mater, whether that be by joining an alumni association, donating money, or becoming a season ticket holder. For Oakland, the alumni network of Golden Grizzlies is just beginning to get its footing, and with that comes a new era of prosperity.
With this new class of fans emerging, expect to see more young children latching onto the Golden Grizzlies (the socialization process). And with more success on the court and off, there will be more interest from the region (the location factor). Paired with these two emergent trends is another that will have ripple effects for years to come: stronger student participation. This is something a friend and I have already written about, but the short version of the story is that it is growing. The watershed moment came at Homecoming 2010, where over 700 students were in attendance (a figure so monumental it was announced on the Grizz Gang website). What we are seeing is an influx of students becoming impassioned about Oakland basketball, growing a tradition that one can only hope will last for a lifetime.
The Athletics Department has been doing a fine job of attempting to keep such tradition strong with the creation of the Gold Zone, a section of the O'Rena devoted entirely to alumni. A growing entity, the Gold Zone will surely continue to attract recent alums who stay in the area as well as those who are more seasoned but are seeking ways to reconnect with the university. As a graduate of the Class of 2010, I will be crossing the Rubicon myself next season, leaving behind many peers in the Grizz Gang to sit alongside the wiser members of the Gold Zone. The names alone reflect the difference between the two: "Grizz Gang" drawing up an image of a rambunctious crew of youngins, "Gold Zone" something more relaxed and classy. While it will be an adjustment at first, I think all the recent graduates and myself will come to respect and enjoy our new digs, and perhaps even attempt to leave our own mark in the process.
Transitioning from student to alumni fan is a very interesting process, indeed. While not quite as daunting as the same transition embarked upon in real life, it still presents one with a few initial obstacles to overcome: no more jumping up and down in unison, free tickets, or endless standing (well, that last one I won't miss so much). But the sense that we're all a part of something bigger than ourselves is still the same, the community intact. The types of chants may be different, but there will still be opportunities to sing "fight, fight, fight for Oakland" or get on a ref for a bad call. In the O'Rena, it all comes down to the same common denominator: to cheer on the Grizzlies. That is something I intend to make a lifelong initiative, and one that will surely be carried on by many new and forthcoming Golden Grizzlies graduates. Keepin' the tradition and pride strong.