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January 14, 2013

Bring the juice back to Diddle Arena

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What's the difference in attending a game at Rupp and a game at Diddle?

I realize that I'm about to step on some big red toes for even asking that question. That's fine, I have broad shoulders. Maybe toes should be stepped on and feelings should be hurt.

The difference in watching a game in Lexington versus Bowling Green is most certainly one thing. It's the electricity and excitement that rains down on the hardwood from the stands.

Before you start screaming about how much bigger Rupp Arena is than Diddle, hear me out. We can make our 7,000 seat arena just as loud for opposing teams as a 23,000 seat facility.

When I attend games now, I look up into the stands and wonder where the energy has gone. Did it vanish when Courtney Lee to the NBA? Perhaps it went to South Carolina with Darrin Horn?

I can remember coming to games as a kid when you could hardly find a seat in Diddle Arena. For a few years attendance tapered off but when Felton had the Tops back on track, fan attendance was at an all-time high. Not only was Diddle selling out during many regular season games; the fans were loud, proud, and excited about every possession.

It's not just the average fans I'm addressing here. Shame on you too, students. Where is your school pride? I can remember during the Darrin Horn days when the student section wasn't just the lower bowl, it extended all the way to the top of the arena. If you don't believe me, go ask an alumnus. You can even do a Google image search of you want. It was nothing for the student section to consist of 1,500 students. Now we are lucky if 400 students show up for games. I know it's not because the tickets are too high. Anyone can afford a free ticket.

Maybe the students are too busy watching UK or Louisville on television in their dorm rooms.

The really sad is, the student section has been put on life support by people that aren’t even in school! Look at the lower level of the student section next game and you will see the same faces that have been sitting there for the past eight years. I don't blame them for sitting there still. They are bigger fans than most of the current students plus they are really good seats.

I wonder if the Ken MacDonald days were really this destructive to basketball spectating or is this a problem with all Western Kentucky athletic events?

After spending millions of dollars on the football stadium, three years went by where half of the tickets were left unused by fans. I do realize that going to a game when your school lost 20-plus straight is hard, but why not support a team that starts a season with a 5-1 record? We can’t really be mad at a bowl committee for not wanting to take a team that can’t get fans to come to games in their own town.

Why do you think Taggart bounced to South Florida? I'd say it has something to do with a prime time rivalry game that only drew 12,000 spectators. Or maybe it was the game that would decide Western's bowl fate that only the die-hards attended.

If nobody read my articles, I would probably just stop writing. If nobody comes to games, coaches will stop coaching here.

Think back five years ago. I remember the game like it was yesterday. It was one of the most electric days I have ever spent cheering on the Tops. It was a Saturday afternoon game in Bowling Green. We were set to take on the South Alabama Jaguars on national television. I can remember looking around the arena and being blinded by all those who had participated in the "white-out." I told one of my friends that it was one of the most intimidating sights I had ever seen. The energy and excitement that surrounded the basketball program that day was incredible.

The only game after the South Alabama "white-out" that sticks out to me was last year's Middle Tennessee game. There was so much electricity in Diddle that night. Harpermania was in full swing in front of a sold out arena. If you're a true Western fan, every time you look back on these games a smile should come to your face. Don't you want this kind of excitement every game? I certainly know the players do. They feed off it!

I realize the people that will read this article are the ones that attend all the games and are big time fans. I along with all other fans appreciate you support. Maybe you can do us all a favor by passing this article along to the others.

We don't have to have the biggest arena or the best facilities to be one of the most intimidating places to play in the country. During the 2000's, Diddle arena was the toughest place to play in the Sun Belt without a doubt. This season we are averaging about 4,500 fans per game which is a good number but just filling a seat isn't enough. As fans, we have to be into every possession. Let the team know you are behind them.

Tyler Wickerham wrote an article for BleacherReport.com in 2011 where he listed WKU’s fan base as one of the most knowledgeable in the Nation. This is an excerpt from his article:

“Western Kentucky University had a very passionate fan base in the 1960s and earlier because they were so successful. If this list was compiled then, WKU would easily be in the top ten.

Nowadays, Diddle Arena is not nearly as packed as it once was. But the knowledge of how basketball is played and won is still there.

In Kentucky, there is nothing to do in the winter but play and watch basketball. There are no professional sports teams to follow, only your university’s basketball teams.

Granted, WKU does not have as big a following as the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky, but the western part of the state has enough WKU fans.

These people grow up watching basketball and learning everything there is to know about it. Parents easily drive two hours on a school night to take their kids to Diddle Arena to watch the Hilltoppers.

The quantity of WKU fans may not be as high as it once was, but the quality is still there.”

During Saturday night's game there were moments where I couldn’t even talk to the guy beside me from all the noise that was being made in Diddle. Unfortunately it was only this way for about 5 minutes out of the 40 minute contest. During the first half, I wasn't sure if I was at a Division I basketball game or a middle school band recital.

But during those two runs on Saturday night, when the fans were on their feet and cheering with all their might, Diddle became a magical place once again. Did you see the players perk up? Half of this year’s team had never played in front of a crowd like that. With the excitement of the fans behind them, they almost pulled off a 15 point comeback in the final three minutes!

Let's try something on Thursday when the Ragin' Cajuns come to town. Let's put the electricity back in Diddle. Be loud during the whole game, not just important runs. If we want the old Diddle back we have to make a change.

The time is now. Let's bring back the juice.

Western Kentucky NEWS


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