SEARCY — It’s been a good few weeks for the Rhodes Rowdies.
The men’s basketball team at Harding University in Searcy started its season with six home games in a row and won them all.
It’s the best record the team has had since 2002-03 and enough reason for the dedicated, face-painted hoard in the student section to yell even harder.
“Harding has always had tremendous support from our students at home basketball games, especially since we renovated the Rhodes Field House in 1997,” said Scott Goode, Harding’s sports information director. “Harding consistently leads the conference in attendance and outdraws many Division I schools.”
Being in the Rhodes Rowdies doesn’t require a membership fee or special shirt. As senior Landon Hodnett said, “It’s not official, official.”
The management of information systems major has been involved with the Rowdies since his freshman year at Harding, when a fellow member in his men’s club, TNT, invited him out.
“Everybody was going, so it was a given,” said Hodnett, 22.
The Rowdies sit in the student section on the side opposite the scorer’s table, from the court to the top of the first tier of seats.
“Starting at the baseline are the craziest people, and as you move up, it’s more casual,” Hodnett said.
But one thing stays the same no matter the level of the Rowdies’ dedication: They yell. To Hodnett and the rest of the crew, it’s as if it’s the job of the Rowdies to distract the opposing team at all costs.
“If we have the ball, we’re really quiet, but when they touch the ball, they’re going to hear about it,” Hodnett said.
Members of the Rhodes Rowdies will go so far as to search Google and Facebook for dirt on the other team. They’ll pass around the opponent’s roster so they know who to be yelling about. One time, Hodnett said, a Rowdie figured out the name of the girlfriend of a player on the other team.
“Every time he’d miss, we’d yell that his girlfriend did not approve,” Hodnett said. “If they get a disgruntled face or they’re laughing, you know they heard you. We had him with a little smirk at the end.”
Even the cheerleaders get in on the fun. Senior cheerleading captain Hailey Nowakowski, 21, went to Harding basketball games with her family when she was growing up in Judsonia. She still remembers how loud and crazy the student fans could be. Now she gets to bare the brunt of the sound wall on the court with the squad. Though they’ve got their own routines, the cheerleaders pick up on the Rowdies’ chants when they get going.
“They’ll always start with the ‘Let’s Go, Bisons!’ cheer when they announce the away team,” Nowakowski said.
And then there’s the call of “1,2,3,4 … uh oh, someone’s in trouble!” when an opponent fouls out. As the player walks to the bench, the Rowdies will help count out his steps with a “left, right, left, right, left.”
Hodnett estimates that at the season’s peak, almost 80 percent of Harding students come to the games. Though this season’s games have seen big crowds already, the team typically sees the biggest turnout after Christmas during conference play and when the players take on rivals such as Henderson State, Arkansas Tech and Ouachita Baptist, Goode said.
Although many sports at the university see big student fan support, Hodnett and Nowakowski said the fans for men’s basketball take it to another level.
“At football, it’s a lot more parents and alumni,” Nowakowski said. “It’s much more of a student crowd at basketball, and you’re so much closer to the players. … You’ll see people in the stands dressed like superheroes or in big black and gold bodysuits. It’s crazy.”
Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.