Marketing & Communications

Falcon players, coaches are big fans of the Fanatics

By Matt Markey '76

When Lucas Zerkle attended his first sporting events four years ago as a BGSU freshman, he noticed right away that the student-athletes were talented, the facilities were fine and the tradition here was deep and rich.

But something very important was missing.

"My friends and I went to a few games and the place just seemed dead. There would be just a few students in the student section, and no real life in the crowd," he said. "We thought, 'This isn't right.' We were used to big crowds in high school, with everybody energized and going crazy at the games, so this was a bit of a shock to us."

So rather than accept what they perceived as complacency and apathy, Zerkle and his friends sought to change things on their own. They got together and tossed around the concept of forming a fan group. They started texting people.

And then we started getting the ball rolling."

The Falcon Fanatics were born, but their early days were not without some growing pains.

"At first, some students were excited about it, but others didn't catch on," Zerkle said. "It's been a process, and we just had to keep at it. Changing the existing atmosphere is a challenging thing, and it was difficult, but we had the support of the athletics department, and that was really important."

The group got backing from the cheerleading squad, and along with the informal blessing of BGSU Athletics came some ideas for enhancing the fan experience, and some funding.

"It was a big help having people higher up show they believed in you and what you were trying to do," Zerkle said. "We started out with just four or five very active people, but they encouraged us to keep at it."

The Falcon Fanatics began to grow, and they soon became a fixture at certain events, such as the volleyball and basketball games. The spirit generated by a few became contagious, and the student section at home games continued to grow.

"We started seeing some real dramatic results last fall, and we found that with the new freshmen coming in, many of them were used to being part of a very active environment at games in high school. This is just a continuation of that, and taking it to the next level," Zerkle said.

With the Fanatics becoming more active and expanding their numbers, student attendance rose at most of the Falcon sports venues, with hockey experiencing about a 35 percent increase.

"That shows us that things are moving in the right direction," said Zerkle, who added that a big push was on to pack Doyt Perry Stadium for the first football home opener against Tulsa on Aug. 29.

Volleyball head coach Danijela Tomic gave the Falcon Fanatics credit for having a significant impact on the success her team gained last fall, in her first season in Bowling Green. The Falcon Volleyball team won the Mid-American Conference tournament and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, a first in the history of the program.

"It's the energy they bring - the Falcon Fanatics just do a lot for us," Tomic said. "They are passionate about supporting us, and even travel to some of our away games. They are really a special group of kids."

Tomic said she notices a difference in the way her players move and compete with large numbers of energized fans and with the Falcon Fanatics in full game mode at the Stroh Center.

"They usually pack our student section and they bring the whole arena alive. It makes a huge difference. I definitely think their energy really transfers to the court.""When you are an athlete, the court is your stage," she said. "If the fans are not there and actively involved, it is the same as performing in an empty theater. You probably won't give your best performance."

Senior volleyball player Ashley Dunn said she has watched the role of the Falcon Fanatics expand during her BGSU career.

"Their involvement has really grown since my freshman year," she said. "They usually pack our student section and they bring the whole arena alive. It makes a huge difference. I definitely think their energy really transfers to the court."

Dunn said the Falcon Fanatics probably don't get enough credit for the part they play in the success of the University's athletic teams.

"They've helped get more fans and more students to all the sports, and they definitely create the atmosphere you want to play in," she said. "They just bring a lot of pride every night, and it definitely can make a difference. In volleyball, so much of it is momentum, and in the close games especially, they can make all the difference."

Senior soccer player Ryan Comiskey said he has noticed BG's fan base grow in size and energy level as the Falcon Fanatics have expanded their ranks.

"I've seen the Falcon Fanatics in action, and you can see that they are really invested in the teams. They really care - you can tell it is definitely not an act," he said. "As an athlete out there competing, you are absolutely aware of the atmosphere around you, so having loud and energized fans helps out tremendously."

Comiskey said his BGSU team has been to venues where few fans show up or are actively involved in the game, "and there's no home field advantage there at all. Places with a solid fan base do have an advantage, especially when the fans go to extremes and really get involved. We're starting to get that here at BG."

Zerkle, who serves as president of the organization, said the Fanatics are encouraged to don creative and colorful attire, from full body paint to a wide range of costumes. They often follow a loose script, so some of their cheers and antics are choreographed or planned out, but a lot of what they do he calls "freestyle" or spontaneous.

"We're just reacting to what goes on out on the court or the field," he said.

Tomic said she envisioned a Falcon Fanatic type of atmosphere when she came to BGSU.

"Every university that has great tradition, also has a dedicated and passionate fan base," she said. "When I came here, I didn't just want to build a team - I wanted to build a program, and the Falcon Fanatics and that level of fan involvement - that is an important element of building a program."

"It creates pride and school spirit, and it gets across the point that we are all one team, in all of the sports."Zerkle said that while the group continues to grow in numbers, he also sees the commitment of the members surging. He plans to keep it informal, and let the energy and enthusiasm fuel its future.

Meanwhile, with her second season at BGSU ready to begin, Tomic remains one of the biggest fans of the Fanatics.

"What I love most about the Falcon Fanatics is that they created this. They started the organization. It's a student-generated thing," she said. "They did it themselves and they have made it grow. It creates pride and school spirit, and it gets across the point that we are all one team, in all of the sports."

(Posted September 23, 2013 )