Terrace basketball teams continue to play well…so where is everybody?

By Steve Willits

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The basketball games at Mountlake Terrace have been thrilling so far this season. However, something isn’t quite right and I really hope it changes.

The fans who are showing up are cheering throughout the games just as you would expect, but the attendance numbers are down and consequently the atmosphere is lacking the spirited vibe that Mountlake Terrace has become known for over the past few years.

What is happening?

The 4th quarter of last night’s women’s basketball game between Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds Woodway was the best I’ve ever witnessed. The Hawks trailed 60-40 with just six minutes left in the game before outscoring the Warriors 23-2 the rest of the way en route to a 63-62 dramatic victory over our rivals to the west. Those of us who were in attendance won’t soon forget the game. Unfortunately, that total isn’t as large as it should be. It seems as though the number of people attending games at the Terraceum continues to be on the decline.

Where is everybody?

Both Terrace basketball teams are undefeated early in the season, the ladies have won four games and are currently ranked 10th in the state according to The Seattle Times (out of 64 teams that play at the 3A level) and the guys have won two games are ranked 6th in the state. I’m not sure Terrace has ever had both teams ranked in the Top 10 at the same time, which makes this one of the best seasons ever to attend games. Both teams have amazing talent and are exciting to watch and yet the crowds at home games so far this season have been sparse. People are really missing out on something very special and I’m not really sure why.

Before I go any further, I want to be very clear about something. My intent in writing this column isn’t to be overly critical of MTHS students. Anyone that knows me at all knows that I absolutely adore my alma mater and treasure the experiences and relationships that I have with everyone at the school. I offer up constructive criticism because I care. I’m not calling anyone out to be rude, I’m simply trying to be encouraging because I think there are so many positives to attending the games, both for the teams on the court and for the students who cheer from the stands.

What has changed at MTHS in the past two years?

I remember going to games back in the fall of 2011 and winter of 2012 when the Rowdy Rooters were robust. Ryan Shannon, Coby Russell and their teammates were leading the Hawks to a state playoff berth and the crowds had a reputation throughout the region as being one of the best around. Terrace students even made other schools take notice at the Tacoma Dome for being the most spirited during the state tournament. The Rowdy Rooters that year were fun, they were loud and they were strong in numbers. The energy that they cheered with throughout the game provided adrenaline to the Hawks players, it intimidated opponents and everyone sitting on the Terrace side of the building seemed to be having a really good time. Can we get that back again?

Can a crowd make a difference at a high school basketball game?

Longtime Terrace men’s basketball coach Nalin Sood is convinced fans make a big difference. Basketball is played with five players on the court at a time for each team and Coach Sood feels that the crowd can give his team an advantage, much like having an extra person playing with the team, a “6th Man” so to speak.

“Our fans got into people’s heads so well last year and the year before, I don’t think that was their goal necessarily but they became our 6th Man on the court,” Sood said. “The 6th Man was an important key to our success as much as anything else and I really believe that.”

Coach Sood also pointed out how much better the Seattle Seahawks and Duke University basketball teams are at home, how those teams are almost unbeatable when playing in front of their own crowds.

“The fan base did a great job. Looking into the crowd and seeing a sea of red (Terrace colors) and it didn’t matter who we were playing, they came out to support us,” Sood explained. The coach also pointed out how much he enjoyed the creativity and theme nights of the last couple of years as he referenced the crowd acting as though they were shooting a bow and arrow when Greg Bowman would go to the free throw line and how the “I believe” chant meant that Terrace was about to get another victory.

“As soon as that chant started, I could look at an assistant coach and give them a look that said this game is over,” Sood said.

As a teacher at MTHS, Sood also understands that it isn’t just about coming out to support the team, it is about students creating memories that will last a lifetime.

“Many former students have come back to me and said that their most memorable experience in high school was going to the basketball games. Students (who aren’t attending games) are missing out on one of the best moments of high school,” Sood said.

One other person who agrees with Sood about the lasting memories is 2012 graduate and former Rowdy Rooter leader Jalen Pahinui. Give credit where credit is due, the crowds were at their strongest during Jalen’s senior year and he did his part to grow the Rowdy Rooters into a cheering section that was loud and large.

“I honestly wish I could go back to do Rowdy Rooters again, by far the greatest memory of my high school career,” Pahinui said when I asked him about his senior year. He has also noticed that MTHS basketball attendance is down considerably. “It just breaks my heart seeing it like this. I just don’t think the younger classes ever got to see how great and how much fun we had in 2012. Ultimately I think the passion is gone and I don’t think they have the leaders or a supporting cast that we had,” Pahinui said.

I asked him what the secret was to getting larger crowds and he said that he and some of his fellow Rowdy Rooters used to promote it daily on HBN school broadcasts. They also made it a point to hang signs and to go around and tell people about the games no matter what their social status was. Pahinui also thinks that some of the current students are “too cool for the games.”

It is still early in the new season though and I have faith that this year’s version of the Rowdy Rooters will turn it around. Jack Pearce is one of the current Rowdy Rooter leaders and he is doing his part to keep the legacy going.

“Jalen did a fantastic job with it and I’m contacting him on what he did to make it successful,” Pearce said. Pearce mentioned that he and Kristjan Pedersen are more or less the Rowdy Rooter leaders right now and that they have weekly Monday meetings to discuss plans for the week where they strategize about what types of themes and activities they should do. Pearce also pointed out that anyone is welcome to join them at these meetings. Among the themes that are being discussed at this time are a formal night for one game and a Sonics night at another.

ASB President Lili Nguyen also acknowledged that attendance is down and thinks it is because the “hype” hasn’t been as big as in past years and that the games haven’t been advertised around the school early on in the season. She and the rest of ASB vow to change that though.

“We plan on creating shirts and flyers to help promote the games and get more fans to come out and support,” Nguyen said. A strong ASB leadership group that is willing to take the time to promote games is an excellent place to start and I have no doubt that Lili and the crew will work hard. I just hope that people will pay attention and start showing up.

One of the people who I reached out to when I decided to write this article was longtime Terrace teacher Vince DeMiero. Vince has been the public address announcer for the men’s basketball team since 1991 and has seen all but one home game since that time. I wanted his opinion on the declining attendance and he pointed out that times are changing.

“Teenagers today have far more choices with regard to how to occupy their time. Additionally the demands on the average teenager’s time has also increased,” DeMiero said, pointing out that many Terrace students take very challenging classes that demand a couple of hours of homework a night. He also went on to discuss other clubs, family obligations and part time jobs before concluding with a comment that put things into a perspective that I’m sure resonates with many of the students of 2013. “When you put all these things together, it’s no wonder why students don’t have a spare two hours in their evening to go to a basketball game. What’s most sad to me, however, is that these students should be able to attend these games. Attending sporting events or attending a concert or a play should be a part of every student’s high school experience. The teaching and the learning at these events is critical to these students’ development. Being a part of an extended family is also critical to the high school experience and that is what these extra- and co-curricular activities provide.”

Ultimately, I am hoping that a larger percentage of students will start attending Terrace basketball games. The players feed off of the additional energy, the atmosphere is more exciting for the audience and the students themselves create amazing memories that they will be able to reflect on for the rest of their lives. It also allows for the current students to carry the Rowdy Rooters legacy forward and remind other schools of just how strong Terrace’s school spirit really is. Go Hawks!

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