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Zag culture comes alive

Thu., Nov. 2, 2006

Gonzaga University basketball fans cheer for everything, even when the woman singing the national anthem hits the high note.

Well, maybe not when the Augustana basketball team from somewhere in the Great Plains scored the first basket of Wednesday night’s preseason basketball opener.

But GU senior Scott McCoy, of Fair Oaks, Calif., wasn’t worried about the Augustana Vikings, wherever they were from. And he had “no idea” where that might be.

“I heard they’re from North Dakota, though,” he said.

Wherever. McCoy wasn’t impressed.

“They can’t hold onto the ball,” he said.

It wouldn’t matter if they could, said McCoy’s date, Megan Wells.

Win or lose, Wells is a Zags fan. Anyone who wants to date the junior from Kelso had better be, too, she said. “I’m a Zags fan for life.”

McCoy was doing OK, she said.

“He’s pretty much got it all right,” Wells said of McCoy’s knowledge of an unrehearsed choreography that has the student section bouncing, yelling, pounding their chairs and gesticulating in unison.

“It’s handed down through the years, I guess,” McCoy said. “You learn it as a freshman.”

The secret is to watch the students in the front row, who tend to be upperclassmen, he said. Of course, you have to stand up to see them. Sitting is permitted in the vast, orange-shirted Gonzaga student section, but no one ever does.

That was confirmed by a group of younger students, some of whom didn’t want to give their names for fear of sounding like freshmen.

“We’re freshmen, so we don’t really know,” one of them said, when asked the meaning of lifting both hands into the air and fluttering one’s fingers like aspen leaves in a breeze.

After a quick football-style huddle, freshman Samantha Cottrell, of Vancouver, Wash., emerged with the explanation that they’re making “spirit fingers” when they flutter their digits.

“It’s just for free throws,” Cottrell said.

Not quite, said Sarah Hodge, of Olympia: “It’s for whenever they shoot.”

Hodge would know. She’s a junior.

“It’s just a little extra good luck on top of what they’ve got already,” said Nik Schriener, a sophomore from Ridgefield, Wash. “We just kind of learn it through trial and error. It’s like religion here. You just learn it.”

Like everyone else in the student section, Schriener and his friend Melissa Trusler, a sophomore from Colville, were wearing bright orange T-shirts that say Gonzaga on the front and Northern Quest Casino on the back. But they stood out from the crowd not so much because of their pro-Zag painted faces but because of their complementary do-rags – he in red, she in blue.

“No, of course not,” they weren’t copying the Whitworth Pirates, Trusler said.

“We’re gangsta fans,” Schriener explained. “We just kind of started dressing together, and it ended up good.”

During the break, business was brisk at the Bulldog Sports Shop booth, conveniently located next to a bank machine. But no do-rags or student-only orange T-shirts were available, and the customers were mostly middle-aged.

Bulldog T-shirts in red and blue were the best sellers, according to clerk Rene Woeckener. There’s a bit of a racket, she acknowledged, in an etiquette that requires adults who want to show their Zag fever to dress in blue at some games and red at others.

On frigid nights like Wednesday, some customers come up with a racket of their own, Woeckener added. They tell their significant others they didn’t dress warmly enough and just have to have one of those Bulldog jackets.

Down the hall, senior Jordan Van Horn, of Merced, Calif., was dressing a hot dog. Drowning it in condiments, really.

Food was flying out of the concession stands.

“The nachos seem to be going through the roof,” said sophomore Matthew Peck, of San Francisco.

But the “carved sandwiches” were the best thing on the menu, according to Van Horn. He had one once, although he was “too poor” to buy one Wednesday.

“It’s like $7.50, but it’s so-o-o-o good,” he said.

Even usher Duane Keevy was having a good time watching the game as he tended the student section.

“It’s an easy bunch to work with,” he said.

If anyone didn’t have a great time Wednesday, it was probably that team from wherever – by 36 points.


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