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‘Down there in spirit’: Cutouts of Gonzaga fans, athletes and more fill seats in the Kennel

By Justin Reed For The Spokesman-Review

Every night after the lights go out in the McCarthey Athletic Center, shadowed, flat figures remain seated inside the Kennel.

Earlier this season, Gonzaga announced that the university would be selling cutouts to fill the emptiness in the Kennel. At $70 each, Gonzaga filled about 750 seats with placeholder fans by midway through the 2020-21 season

Among the distinguished guests in 2D: almost 30 dogs, one lizard, one koala, one kangaroo, one parrot and a man in a full tux.

The Australian animals were bought and placed from a fan who believed it would help a few women’s players who call Australia home feel more comfortable as the pandemic wore on.

Also in the stands was the full cheer squad, university President Thayne McCulloh, former Zags who are playing professionally and most, if not all, parents of the players.

Those are all still there, but for the second week – and third game in a row – there will be actual people cheering on the Bulldogs after Spokane County entered Phase 2 of the Roadmap to Recovery Plan. That allows indoor stadiums to house 200 people, or 25% capacity, whichever is lower.

The 200 includes all players, staff, security, media and Kennel employees – essentially everyone in the building is counted toward that magic number. That means season-ticket holders, students and others hoping to see this year’s top-ranked Zags team in person likely won’t get the chance. Families of both the Zags and visiting teams will be given priority and with the 200-person limit, room for anyone else isn’t possible.

“If you’re a parent of a college student athlete, getting to watch your son or daughter play is what you kind of live for during their college career – and to not have that be available this season has just been heartbreaking for us,” Athletic Director Mike Roth said. “As people that work in college athletics, we’re telling parents, ‘You can’t come watch your son or daughter play,’ and now it will allow them to do that; it’s a godsend, that’s for sure.”

But even if there are only a handful of people there, the atmosphere will be different.

“I think it’s really exciting for everyone,” Roth said. “I mean, we’ve been waiting and hoping and trying everything we can to have that opportunity.”

Gonzaga also will invite visiting-team families to the Kennel, which might be the first time they have seen their college athlete play this season, considering most West Coast Conference teams are from California and Oregon.

Roth said it was just the right thing to do for the good of college athletics.

Since the announcement that family will be allowed, fans have been pretending to have family connections to players, or saying they would adopt a player if it means they can see the Zags in person.

The athletic department has also received a massive increase in ball-boy requests, even though there have been no ball-boys this season.

This has been giving the department some laughs, but also shows how devoted Zags fans can be.

Though the chance to see the Bulldogs in the Kennel appears to be near-zero, cutouts are still an option – and the university is letting fans keep them at the conclusion of the season.

When people buy a cutout, they are given the choice to either pick them up or have them shipped to the address they provided when they bought the cutout.

In a wacky 2020-21 season, a cardboard cutout that lived in the Kennel will go down as one of the more unique pieces of memorabilia.

Here are some of the faces in the crowd:

Dan Corkery, ‘diehard fan forever’

Corkery died Feb. 7 of cancer, but Gonzaga red and navy blue coursed through his veins.

His sister Pam Almquist bought him a cutout as a Christmas present after reading a newspaper story. Corkery wore a quilt Almquist made out of Bulldog shirts he had collected throughout his life.

“He has just been a diehard fan forever,” Almquist said. “It has been in the family.”

Corkery was born in Spokane in 1951, and attended Catholic schools in the area before going to college at Washington State University.

A law degree from Gonzaga followed, but his Bulldog affiliation was well-established long before he set foot on campus.

His uncle, Francis Corkery, a Jesuit, was the 19th president of the college between 1945 and 1957 and oversaw record enrollments, helped by women being allowed to enroll for the first time. He also helped oversee the construction of Gonzaga Prep and multiple buildings on campus, including the first library.

Since 2014, Dan Corkery had served as a board member of Gonzaga’s Investment Committee, which oversees the university and law school’s foundation endowment portfolios.

Corkery had lived on the East Coast for a large portion of his life, but the 11 p.m. local time Bulldog tipoffs always found him in front in front of the TV rather than in bed.

Almquist said he never missed a game. Corkery had season tickets and would travel to Spokane as often as his schedule would allow.

Those that he didn’t make in person meant other members of his Spokane-based family could attend.

“He always went to all the tournaments and I can remember going to the games at Madison Square Gardens back in New York,” Almquist said. “That was phenomenal. That was the highlight.”

Corkery never had the chance to see his cutout on live TV, but the university made sure to send the family a photo of his cutout hanging out in the Kennel.

“Yeah, he was pretty tickled that they had taken a picture of his position in the stands and sent it to me,” she said. “So I sent that back to him, so at least he could see himself in the stands.”

The family saw his cutout live last week for the first time, 11 days after Corkery’s passing.

“But you know, he’s up in heaven – he saw it, he got to see it,” she said.

When Corkery’s quilt-draped cutout appeared on the screen, his family all over the country went wild, specifically his kids Frank and Catherine.

“They were all very excited when we saw his cutout for the first time,” she said. “There was a lot of texting and things going back and forth. So that was cool. That was a nice, nice thing for them to be able to see. And all their friends.”

A glitch in the system that was handling cutout requests on Gonzaga’s website accidently had Almquist buy two cutouts. So, Corkery is in two separate seats in the Kennel.

But the mistake was a blessing in disguise. One cutout will be sent back east, and one will stay here in Spokane.

“He was, I think, one of their biggest fans, just very quietly behind the scenes all the time,” she said.

“He’s a Northwest boy through and through – so Gonzaga is in his heart.”

Shawn Harris, Dominick Harris’ dad

The university also extended cutout invitations to all family members of both the men’s and women’s teams.

That gave Shawn Harris the opportunity to support his son in a “Flat Stanley” way.

But on Thursday and Saturday, he and his wife, Neki, were in the stands of the Kennel for the first time since Dominick’s recruiting visits.

“It was very surreal, to be honest,” Shawn said. “You know, having a chance to see him the first time in McCarthey was a dream come true for my family.”

They weren’t alone in attendance. All families were invited to Spokane for the first time all season.

As for the Harrises, they had made the trips to Florida and South Dakota to see the Zags battle Kansas and Iowa. Dominick played five minutes in the two games combined.

He has averaged almost nine minutes per game, but he pitched in 21 over the two-game stretch a week ago, adding 10 points.

The freshman from Murrieta, Calif. has been learning and growing underneath the watchful eyes of the coaching staff, but his enthusiasm is unmatched during the games, no matter his minutes.

“Yeah, you know, the Zags roll a little different,” Shawn said. “Everybody roots for everybody. So that’s just a different vibe.”

“And that kind of trickled down to all the parents, but the protocols for COVID were highly visible, so we didn’t get a chance to co-mingle. But from a safe distance, it was just them in their chairs and us in our chairs – we were able to wave a lot, use a lot of hand signals and things of that nature.”

While the parents were scattered around the arena, they did find their flat doppelgangers chilling courtside in the Kennel.

“I don’t know how I got courtside tickets,” Shawn said. “I wanted to be my cutout, to be honest with you. Right on the court. And I was like, ‘Oh, look at us, we’re there, could we just (trade spots)’. But there’s really no bad seat in McCarthey. The fans are definitely lucky to have that venue. We were happy just to be in the building.”

The Harrises will find themselves back in Spokane for the two games this week, soaking in every minute – especially after the announcement that the West Coast Conference tournament will be held without fans in attendance.

“I enjoy watching every player play and it’s been a lot of times that my kid’s not out there, but that doesn’t change my enthusiasm for the games,” he said.

Gonzaga senior and cheerleading captain Paige Bruland

The cheerleading team was present for all home games, albeit in cutout fashion. The team was sponsored by the university, so the $70 fee was waived.

Paige Bruland, the cheerleading team captain, knew the squad was getting hooked up with the cutouts, so she and her head coach, Michelle Wilson, decided to keep it a secret.

The first home game of the year turned into a surprise for the team, who saw their cutouts for the first time.

Those cutouts were the closest thing to a cheer squad inside the Kennel until last Thursday, when 12 members were allowed in for the first time all season.

“We’re just so lucky to be the only cheerleading team in Washington and California who are actually allowed in games,” Bruland said. “We’re kind of rotating in and out to make sure everyone gets their chance in the Kennel and it’s definitely different. We’re stationary, we’re not on the court, we’re up in the stands and we can’t do our usual stunting, tumbling, engaging with the crowd, all those things we’d love to do. But we’re there and we’ll be cheering on our guys and gals and we’re so happy to be there for them, and I think that they’re really happy to have some noise in the Kennel.”

Cheerleaders enhance the in-person experience, but also help get the crowd engaged to keep the noise up during the broadcasts. Normally, the student body keeps the noise levels high, but this year has been anything but normal.

Instead, the university supplemented the seats with not just the cutouts, but also the giant section-covering banners and artificial noise – anything to make it look like more than an empty and silent gym.

“We were going into the Kennel and doing gameday run-throughs before the cutouts were in and it just looked sad,” Bruland said. “I think once they added the cutouts, the (banners) and the artificial noise, it really did make it feel like more of a game day. And I think that the players really appreciated it. And just watching on TV, I really appreciated it too.”

Anne Montgomery, superfan

Sitting three rows behind former Bulldog women’s player Zykera Rice, Montgomery is happy to see her cutout every time KHQ/Root Sports is on the broadcast.

When the camera is on Greg Heister, Richard Fox and Dan Dickau, Montgomery’s cutout can be seen rooting on the Zags from the fourth row.

Montgomery, earned her Master’s in Business Administration from Gonzaga, and she is currently studying online for her Master of Arts and Theology and Leadership from the university.

Her son received his undergraduate degree in 2012.

She has been a fan of the Bulldogs since around the 1999 season.

This year, she bought a Kennel Club membership and has a shirt to prove it in her cutout photo.

“I thought (the cutouts) were great because, you know, Zag fans are really, really supportive to have the opportunity to be present in the Kennel, in a way,” Montgomery said. “I thought it was a great idea.”

She either saw the announcement on Facebook, or from an email from the athletic department. Either way, she was getting in the Kennel this season.

While the cutouts have no lungs to push air through vocal chords to sing the fight song, Montgomery still thinks the players feel them in spirit.

“I keep trying to get cutout me to yell louder, but she doesn’t,” she said.

Surely Bulldog fans around the world are dealing with the same conundrum.

Montgomery lives in California, but her heart is in Spokane.

Before they moved from the Lilac City, Montgomery and her husband owned women’s season tickets. Now, they try to attend both the men’s and women’s games at San Diego and Pepperdine.

They also attend the WCC Tournament most years and went to Phoenix to catch the Zags in the Final Four.

She and her husband, Glen Stream, are building a house in Spokane and she is excited for her flat twin to go in her new sports cave, hopefully this May.

“My husband would say that he’s a fan and I’m a fanatic,” she said. “That’s probably true.”

Joe Krizanic, cutout pioneer

One of the first people to buy a cutout, Krizanic received an email from the GU Alumni Association with an opportunity to catch every Zag game this season.

Not Krizanic himself, but a cutout placed behind current opening day starter and former Bulldog star Marco Gonzales’ cutout.

“Since we couldn’t attend the games this year, I thought, well, that’d be a great opportunity to just kind of support the team that way,” he said.

The Spokane native currently resides in Elk, but that hasn’t stopped him from owning men’s and women’s season tickets.

He picked up the men’s tickets in 2004, the same year that the McCarthey Athletic Center opened. A few years ago, he added the women to his ticket repertoire.

Unfortunately, with the announcement of no fans for the WCC Tournament, his streak of 12 straight years going to Vegas will end this spring. He canceled his reservations earlier this week.

But for how much he loves to see the Bulldogs play live, he also is just happy that the student-athletes are getting the opportunity to play.

“The way I look at this season is, once I found out that the fans couldn’t attend the game, I was okay with that,” he said. “As long as the team stayed healthy, and can play their games, because I can watch it on TV. But I wanted to make sure that any way possible, the team could stay healthy and play their games.”

He was happy to see the university make the effort to involve the community for the players’ sake, even if it meant he wouldn’t be in the stands rocking out to “Zombie Nation” with the rest of the rabid fans.

“I think it was so important because they had to have some kind of representation on the fans,” he said. “Because the Kennel is one of the most awesome places to be in and experience (a game). If you haven’t attended a game with a Kennel Club, you haven’t experienced a sporting event – it is just unbelievable.”

Krizanic is well-accustomed to supporting GU athletics, but when his options for season tickets were obsolete, the cutouts were the best and only way he could stay in support.

“To have the team see some of the fans offer some type of support, the only support we could offer them this year was with the cutouts,” he said.

His extensive selection of Bulldog clothing, decals and vehicle license plate frames will all stay close to his heart, but there isn’t anything like seeing yourself – in a different form – live on TV.

“It’s kind of neat to see your cutout down at the games once in a while and flash across the screen,” he said. “I’m down there in spirit that way.”

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