Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Student Section Chronicles: Western Illinois

If anyone ever wrote a detailed history of The Summit League and all its past formations, the part of Western Illinois would figure prominently in the story. The Leathernecks have been a member of this band of schools since its inception and are the only remaining original member, outlasting many which jumped ship to join the Horizon League, MAC, and Missouri Valley, amongst others. Key to the narrative of WIU would be why they were left out of conference alliances so regularly, often to remain in a league that would have to rebuild yet again with an even more geographically-challenged line-up.

One likely reason for WIU's continued membership in this conference entity is the simple fact that they have never been particularly amazing on the court. Despite being the longest-standing member, the Leathernecks have never made the NCAA Tournament, never hoisted a conference tournament trophy. It's an especially sad fact considering they've watched relative newcomers like North Dakota State and IUPUI join and win immediately. Even Southern Utah has been a part of March Madness. When Western Illinois was good during the mid-1990s, they had the unfortunate luck of running into Homer Drew's Valparaiso teams featuring NCAA Tournament legend Bryce Drew. From 1994 to 1997, WIU made it to the conference championship only to be beaten all three times by Valpo, including an 88-85 triple-overtime loss in 1995.

Despite unfortunate luck and a lot of despair, WIU is still alive and kicking. The hiring of Jim Molinari as Head Coach has widely been viewed as a solid move for the long-suffering program. The team posted a perfect Academic Progress Rate over the past four seasons, indicating academic success and program stability. Moreover, since the conference switched names in 2007, the Leathernecks have won more conference games than they did during what was an otherwise dreadful decade on the court. In a sense, the program is turning a corner - and doing it the right way. Their attendance has been down lately, no doubt affecting student attendance in the process. The answers provided by longtime student section member Hutch Retarski below surely indicate such, but with a renewed sense of hope in the program, the haze surrounding Western Hall should surely be thicker in coming seasons.

Name of the student section: Officially, The Purple Haze. But nicknamed by me as Section H.

How long has it existed in its current state?

I have been doing this for 4 years. Officially, The Purple Haze has been around for two seasons.

Does your student section require/recommend a certain shirt (or shirt color) be worn?

Yes, the "dress code" is a purple tye-dye t-shirt.

How are tickets allocated for students in the student section?

There are no tickets for students. Admission is paid through student fees.

Where are you located at in the arena, and what is your favorite part about such placement?

I am located next to the pep band. I like standing there because they are the biggest and loudest section in Western Hall and it allows me to join them in supporting WIU basketball.

What are the two to three biggest games for your student section each year?

Oral Roberts is a big rivalry for me as well as UMKC. A lot of those returning players remember me so it made for a great time.

What struggles does your student section face every year?

The biggest problem that we have is getting people out to the game. They come to a game here or there, but the following has not been loyal enough.

Describe your most original chant, or a memory of a particular experience in the student section.

My favorite chant was "Boo-Hoo Williams." I forget what school he is a part of but we just got in his head and he complained to the ref about us so we started with that chant.

Do the students at your school have any unique rituals performed before big games? Or do you have a specific experience to share if it is not something customarily done?

We do not have any rituals in my experience. But I like to listen to the school's fight song a couple of times before each game.

Why do you ultimately choose to be a part of the student section at your school?

I have a lot of friends on the pep band, so originally it started as me going to see them play. At the first game I started heckling the other team. The Leathernecks went on to win that game, and it was asked that I come to the next game. It was that very day that Section H was born.

- We'd like to thank Hutch for taking the time to answer our questions about Western Illinois.

Other reports from the Student Section Chronicles:

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