Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Michigan from a Cheerleaders Perspective

Ben Fishman

    It’s 7:00 AM on February 2nd. It’s early but about two blocks from our Bloomington apartment, a crowd is gathered outside of Assembly Hall for a long and memorable day. Last night our coaching staff changed our arrival time to 9:00 AM instead of 8:00 AM, but it didn’t really matter, we were excited.
    As we walked into the softball locker room downstairs in Assembly Hall, which is our makeshift locker room during basketball season, we had the TV tuned into the live feed from outside. Our excitement was peaked quickly as we saw several sections filled with “eager” students waiting to be seen on national television.
    There was no ordinary schedule for a game at 9:30 AM as we finally made our way out of the tunnel and were ushered around Assembly Hall by ESPN production crews, all who were as professional and kind as they could be. By this time Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas, Jalen Rose and Rece Davis had all made appearances ahead of the 10:00 AM show on ESPNU.
    When the show went live at 10, both teams were ushered behind the desk. For the next hour there was a ton of smiling and lots of laughs as the hosts talked about the huge matchup between Indiana and Michigan, as well as all the other great games from around America. The fans cheered loud for images of Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller and booed for Nerlens Noel and Duke. As the morning came to an end I couldn’t miss out on an opportunity for a photo op. (See below.)

    Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee meant several things for me. First, I have a soft spot for sweet tea and BBQ. Second, I’ve been in love with sports since I can remember. I attended my first Memphis Tigers game when I was 6. Since then it’s been all basketball. I remember traveling with the team from 2005 to 2008 once they made it to the NCAA Tournament. This led to places like Little Rock, New Orleans and Houston. Then I came to Indiana and it was a whole new level of love.
    So coming into the February 2nd, Indiana vs. Michigan game, I had only been to probably two games that rivaled the enormity of this one. Those games were both in 2008. The first being #1 Memphis vs. #2 Tennessee, and the second being the Elite Eight game vs. Texas in Houston. It took all of about fifteen seconds on the night of Saturday, February 2nd, to realize that these games weren’t even close.

    That afternoon, after the College GameDay tapings, a few of us went to Yogi’s to kill some time. Our report time for the main attraction on this Saturday was 7:15 PM to Assembly Hall. Yogi’s is a typical place to go to if you wanna see nothing but sports. We were sat down and quickly surprised that today was even bigger. The enormity of this game, and the way people felt about it on Saturday afternoon can be described simply as magical. It was on every TV you could find, from replays of the GameDay telecast to commercials hyping the nights action. But before all of that, our team, and I mean all of our members, needed one thing: A nap.

    As we strolled into Assembly Hall a little after 7:00, we quickly saw that the students had ramped it up and were going crazy in the GA line. Knowing that their doors were about to open only made them more antsy. We quickly rushed into our locker room downstairs and began suiting up, the softball locker room becoming filled with the now suddenly recognizable smell and haze of hairspray. Guys were throwing tape around the room, lacing up shoes and putting on their uniforms. At 7:30 we made our way under the arena to Cook Hall. For anyone that has never strolled into Assembly Hall and explored, this is fun. Directly under the 1940 National Championship banner, beneath the student section, there is a hallway that leads away from the arena. At the end of this hallway is a door, usually locked by key card access. Through this door is a long, narrow tunnel with the words, “Indiana Hoosiers Basketball,” lining it. This is the hallway that your Hoosiers stroll down every night from their Cook Hall locker room.

    The pep rally at Cook Hall was quick as usual. It offers the opportunity to mingle with the big spenders and boosters at IU and on February 2nd, it was Indiana University Hall of Famer Landon Turner who gave the coaches talk. Following his talk we went straight to the men’s court in Cook Hall to go over warm ups.
    For about half an hour we go over every timeout and pyramid that we might do during the game, a process that can drag on, keeping us from making our final preparations and heading out to Assembly Hall. But tonight everything flowed smoothly. Our coaching staff pulled us together, reminding us of how big of a game this was, telling us that we need to be “Hoosier fans” first tonight.

    At 8:35 it was finally go time. As we sit in the locker room for the next five minutes, our coach runs us through the timeouts we will do during the game. Usually differing each game between such things as Wipeout and Zombie. For the next half hour we started cheers, interacted with fans and watched warm ups. My personal favorite moment here is my high five from Remy Abell every game. Following Coach Crean’s talk and the National Anthem comes the tunnel. As we form our tunnel and the band and students reach full throat one last time before the game starts, we sit and take in the surroundings, something that we rarely have a chance to do during the game.
    As the team runs out and the lights turn on, we know it’s time. Everything we do for the next two hours is scrutinized and closely viewed, but it’s also the most incredible time of our lives. For two hours we get to cheer on the #3 (eventual #1) team in America, in a game of two top three teams, in the best atmosphere in basketball. For two hours, we are in heaven.
    The game was amazing. The Hoosiers and Wolverines played a battle that goes down as the best game of basketball I have seen in person. It’s been amazing. By the time the William Tell overture starts, I’m more excited than ever to hoist my teammate up in the air. By the time the clock runs down to all zeroes, nobody is more excited than our squad. As the celebration continues outside of Assembly Hall, it’s just starting in our locker room. It begins with me hoisting up our coach and ends when everyone is gone, another quality night in the books.

    On February 2nd, 17,000 plus packed into Assembly Hall to watch a game between two teams ranked in the top 3 in both polls. On February 2nd,#3 Indiana beat #1 Michigan 81-73 to regain the top spot. This has been a recap of that day from the views of a member of the Indiana Cheerleading squad. Being in Assembly Hall this season, and not just that day has been magical. There’s no real answer as to why we do what we do. Maybe when it’s all over after four years, we’ll have an answer. Maybe we won’t find out anything. But we’ll step back out there on that court again for the next game, because we know the view from there is, amazing.

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