Photo by Heather Middleton
By Derrick Mahone
They can be houses of horror for their opponents. A big, raucous student section can give the home team a homecourt advantage.
"It's pretty special when you have your students in there making a lot of noise," said Curt Miller, Ola's athletic director and boys basketball coach. "It helps when they are in there chanting. It can take teams out of their game."
Ola's student section is dubbed the "O-zone" and they have theme nights as students dress the part.
"(Ola's) crowd is fun to play in front of," Stockbridge forward Dante Campbell said. "They're loud and they try to get in your head."
Stockbridge coach Duane Kelley agreed.
"That O-zone will say some crazy things," Kelley said.
Some of the best high school atmospheres are not those of traditional powers.
Union Grove might boast one of the best student sections in the Southern Crescent when it comes to making a visiting team feel uncomfortable.
Union Grove athletics director Ralph Neeley said it's not by accident that the school has a spirited student section to enhance the game-day atmosphere.
"We got some fantastic students," Neeley said. "We have some likeable athletes, who the students like to come out and cheer on."
Wolverines basketball coach Russ Atkins agreed.
"I really think the team this year interacts well with the non-athlete student body," Atkins said after his team's win over Ola that produced a crowded student section.
It has become somewhat of a tradition at Union Grove to participate in the student section at basketball games. They have coordinated crowd antics which are usually seen at big-time college basketball games.
But raucous crowds and talented competition is not all that opposing coaches have to prepare their teams for. Some of the older gyms, like at North Clayton and Jonesboro, can provide for a unique experience. The crowds are right on top of the action in those cookie-cutter gyms.
North Clayton's matchbox-size gym can get hot and noisy. Throw in the pep band and it can become deafening.
"Yeah, that is the one place that I hate to play," Forest Park junior guard Cydni Bivins said. "It's small and noisy and hot."
Mundy's Mill coach Tu Willingham hates to look on the schedule and see the road trip to Morrow. It's usually a Friday night and it's packed and noisy, which adds to a nostalgia setting in.
"They have some very intense fans that are very passionate about the game," Willingham said. "I don't know how it is on Tuesday's, but it's usually rocking in there on Friday's when we play."
Neeley said that each Union Grove's graduating class challenges the upcoming class to keep the tradition going.
"It seems every year that the graduating class makes a challenge to the upcoming seniors to pick up the school spirit," Neeley said. "The graduating class usually comes back to make sure that the legacy is continuing."
Packed gyms with energetic crowds get both the home team and opponents fired up.
"Seeing these students get into the game is fun," Miller said. "You like to see those big crowds into the game even if you are the visiting team."
FIVE TOUGHEST GYMS
Jonesboro - A very vocal student body sits across from the home bench. The students can give the visiting team and referees a mouthful.
North Clayton - It's small and gets pretty noisy especially when the band performs. The thermostat is set between hot and hotter.
Mount Zion - A humorous public address announcer plus oldschool tunes played on the speakers makes for a festive atmosphere.
Ola - The "O-zone" can be loud. They usually have a theme night for Friday games. Throughout the contest the students will repeat chants.
Union Grove - Opposing coaches have marvelled at the raucous student section, which has well-coordinated chants and mocks the opposing team.