2012-13 Basketball: Cover Story: Student sections are championship-caliber, too
By Ronnie Gallagher
Rick Strunk of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association has always made comments to me about how special Rowan County athletics seem to be, pointing to the number of state championship teams in a number of different sports.And just think. He doesn't even know about the student sections.
If he ever saw these kids perform, he'd know they're state championship-caliber as well.
It used to be just the four North Piedmont Conference schools battling for supremacy of best student section - East Rowan, West Rowan, South Rowan and Carson. But then, Salisbury and North Rowan took their cue and decided they wouldn't be outdone either. It makes Rowan County a Fan-Tastic place to be during basketball season.
While everyone in the stands enjoys the antics of the students, the players love to be a part of it, too.
"It's very encouraging," says West's 6-foot-3 senior Shay Steele.
At East, where the kids make game night their own personal Broadway stage, Karleigh Wike says it's what makes playing basketball fun. "It gets me pumped up," said the 6-4 junior. "I already have enough adrenaline so it just adds to it."
There is so much talk about the student sections that the Post decided to make them a part of the basketball section cover. Rowan may be the only county in the state where they're as well-known as the teams.
Let's take a look at each:
When asked about her cheering section at East Rowan, Wike simply says, “They’re pretty crazy.”
The Mustang Maniacs are led by Graham Lyerly and believe this, he takes his role as “Main Maniac” seriously — just as seriously as the captains of the basketball teams.
Asked if he thought East could be the top student section again, he smiled.
“We will be. We’re confident. We’ll have about twice the student section we had last year.”
Lyerly even knows how to recruit more Maniacs. He brings his grill, regardless of the temperature, and cooks deer meat by a fire barrel in the parking lot before the doubleheader.
“Tailgating is our biggest thing,” Lyerly said. “We eat well. We’re all out there listening to music and getting pumped up. And then, we all come in together.”
And who knows what they’re going to look like.
Last year against West Rowan, the Maniacs drew uproarious laughter when they showed up as old people — canes, white hair, spectacles ... the works. Another favorite is the beach theme, which is what Lyerly and sophomore Joseph Peeler showed up wearing for the cover shoot.
“We toss beach balls up in the air, wear sunglasses ... this year, we’ve already got some good themes picked out for basketball,” Lyerly said.
How important are the Maniacs? Instructions come over the intercom at school about where to meet and what to wear.
When the game starts, forget it. Pity the poor opponent who has to throw the ball in from the sidelines in front of the Maniacs, who are practically breathing down the kid’s neck.
“We say something to get in their heads and get their mind off the game,” Lyerly said.
Peeler might one day take over as Main Maniac. He’s always got the duty of waving the “Mustang Pride” flag.
“They just gave me the flag and told me to run it,” Peeler said. “It’s a great experience and a whole bunch of fun.”
Caleb Martin and Greg Tonnesen showed up for the cover shoot determined that no one was going to outdress them or look crazier. Tonnesen wore a big wig and a cape to support Kelly Dulkoski.
“I’ve been a Crazie all four years,” said Tonnesen, one of the school’s top football and baseball players. “It gets pretty crazy. There’s a lot of creativity.”
Tonnesen said Carson does something the other schools don’t — it has four different leaders.
“We switch off all four quarters,” he said.
Martin had the best get-up — a full-body orange suit. Thanks to former Crazie leader Tripp Cross, the suit has been passed down, first to Caleb’s brother, Josh, and now to him.
“We get together on Wednesday and figure out what we’re going to do,” Martin said.
Carson has been the Post’s student section of the year in the past and Martin said the competition continues.
“East does a really good job and so does West,” he said. “We try to outdo them.”
THE WEST CRAZIES
West Rowan actually received the most compliments from the others at the cover shoot.
Led by the ebullient Jake Kennedy — who does the best impression of football coach Scott Young you’ve ever seen — West had the first true Crazies years ago. And while its current group may not be as large as the ones at East or Carson, the legend is still intact.
“West Rowan is who we kinda try to be like,” Salisbury’s Cody Veros said. “When we think of crazy student sections, we think of West Rowan.”
Kennedy, a junior, said he’ll try to keep it going.
“We have a theme night,” Kennedy said. “We do the Wiggle-O, Rock with the Goal Posts ... there’s a lot of dancing.”
North Rowan’s 6-7 center Malik Ford was asked what student section made the biggest impression on him.
“West Rowan,” he said firmly. “They’ve got crazy people over there. To me, they’re the best one.”
It was quickly pointed out that Ford and North haven’t played in East’s gym lately.
Seth Brown is a South Rowan senior now, but he was initiated into the Rowdies quickly as a freshman.
“My first day, I made friends with the varsity football team and I became a big fan of the school,” said Brown, who showed up with fellow Rowdie Tiffany Brooks to support girls star Avery Locklear.
“If the other team’s fans try to counter us, we’ll come back witty ... and LOUDER,” assured Brown.
Veros came to the cover shoot to cheer on Brielle Blaire, painted and ready for action. His cohort, Jennifer Brborovic, showed off her t-shirt with the words “The Swarm.”
“This is the first year we’re getting serious about it,” Brborovic said. “I want to do something. We want to leave a legacy.”
A couple of years ago, during a second-round playoff game, The Swarm proved it belonged with the other great student sections of Rowan County. Cuthbertson arrived early with a group of students, who thought they were going to stand behind the Salisbury bench.
Uh, no they were not going to do that.
They were shooed away to another part of the gym and then were out-yelled and out-performed by The Swarm, which stood the entire game behind their beloved Hornets.
“We have a lot of different chants and we cheer for the players,” Veros said. “If we play West or North, it’s going to be more intense than against somebody like a Central Davidson.”
Heather Wood came to the cover shoot wearing her green “Cavalier Crazies” t-shirt. She remembers wanting to be part of the North Rowan section, but when it seemed to fizzle, she took control.
“I really, really want to do this,” Wood said. “We got some shirts and we announced it. Once basketball season starts, it’s going to be crazy.”
Wood said even the teachers at North are caught up in the school spirit.
“They are saying, ‘You ought to do this.’ It’s really going to be awesome,” Wood said. “The cheerleaders actually tell us what to do so they can get everybody doing it.”
Wood’s sidekick, Summer Hall, produced some “Crazie” faces for photographer Jon C. Lakey, the same ones she’ll make this season for the Cavaliers.
“It’s really fun,” she said. “I like going to the games and being wild and crazy.”
Ford is ready for it. North Rowan is, by far, the top boys team returning in the county so there should be plenty to cheer about in Spencer.
“People tell us there are going to be more out at the games this year,” Ford said. “It’s going to be like it was when I was a freshman. We had the best that year.”
The coaches take notice, too.
There are so many Maniacs at East Rowan, they need more bleacher space. Which means the Honeycutt boys, who are at every game, have even been pushed aside.
“They’re mainstays,” laughed East boys coach Trey Ledbetter. “They used to take up two rows. Now, it’s only the first row.
“Our kids are the cream of the crop,” Ledbetter added. “They’re competitive with the other schools in the county. I’m a diehard Duke fan so I told them, ‘Model yourself after who started it’ ” — the Cameron Crazies.
Lyerly spoke for every student section when he he noted, “It’s a whole lot easier to do it when you’re winning.”
Perhaps North’s Wood said it best.
“Football is amazing,” she nodded, “but basketball is going to be Fan-Tastic.”
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or firstname.lastname@example.org.