Michigan Basketball and Hockey: A Religion

Chatham High School 2013 State Champions

In my junior year of high school, my team earned the opportunity to play in the NJSIAA Ice Hockey State Championship game, where we defeated Morristown High School by a score of 3-0. Winning the championship was incredible, but what will always stand out to me was looking around after the game. My high school, Chatham High, has around 1,200 students. However, on this day, my town set an NJSIAA record for attendance with over 3,200 people in the Chatham sections of the Prudential Center. It was absolutely astonishing, and has allowed me to appreciate the importance of a fan section.

My appreciation for student sections has led me to both Michigan basketball and Michigan hockey games throughout the semester. I have attended every basketball game to this point, with the exception of the Nicholls State game where I was home for Thanksgiving Break. Additionally, I have been to the majority of hockey games, excluding those from last weekend. The intensity and passion of Michigan students and fans have reminded me of why I came to this university. It truly is great to be a Michigan Wolverine.

In both hockey and basketball , the marching band provides music and the background music to many of the chants. The band gives energy to the fans, and the fans provide energy for the players. I have learned through my own personal experience, as well as watching teams play, the importance of having fans behind you. Chants and loud fans not only get in opposing players’ heads, but they also inspire the home team to play harder. Every athlete dreams of scoring the game winning goal or game winning shot in front of the student section because that is what they play for, and that is who they want to win for. Through my experiences at the games thus far, I have learned a great deal about ritual. It may be crazy to think about, but being a part of the Michigan student section is being the part of a ritual. Whether it is turning around and pretending to read the newspaper when the other team is being announced, or singing “Hey Baby,” at the basketball games, being a fan is being part of something much greater. A Bartlett Giamatti discusses ritual and spectator engagement in his book “Take Time for Paradise.” Giamatti discusses how the crowd is involved with plays on the field or court even though he is not actually taking part in the sport. Chants and dances are ways that fans become one with the sport, and illustrate their interaction with the game. These chants and dances are formalized by the leaders of the student section, and are handed out on cards to all the fans in attendance. Being involved in the student section in turn allows you to be involved in the sport, and escape into a new world. In his book, Giamatti states, ” sports can be viewed as a kid of popular or debased religion, in the sense that the most intense feelings are brought to bear or in the sense that sports may mirror whatever avowedly ‘sacred’ concerns Americans do share.” Hockey and basketball have worked to bring all the students together and unite conformity. All the fans share similar beliefs and work together to promote a positive atmosphere for their students performing on the court or ice. Much like religion, these chants and actions are repeated daily and are open for all students.

Michigan Basketball Marching Band

For me personally, watching the hockey games allows me to go back and remember my times as a hockey player. There is honestly nothing in this world I miss more than hearing a “Let’s go Chatham” chant from my high school student section. It brings chills just thinking about it. With this being said, I am sure that many fans of both basketball and of hockey can envision themselves as the athletes they are watching. Giamatti highlights this in his book when he talks about the man who watches football on Sunday’s not because everyone else is doing it, but rather because it reminds him of when he played the game and when he was young.

“When people win together, the joy is more intense than when any of us wins alone, because part of any true pleasure is sharing that pleasure, just as part of the alleviation of pain is sharing the burden of pain” (Giamatti). If you have not gone to a basketball or hockey game yet, go out and win with other Wolverines. The athletes need you there, and other fans need you there. Forever go blue.

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2 thoughts on “Michigan Basketball and Hockey: A Religion

  1. I can relate to both being a fan and feeling supported by fans. I ran track in high school, and there is such a difference between an after-school dual meet between two teams with few fans, and the state championship meet with the bleachers packed with fans. I especially liked your quote about how part of true pleasure is sharing that pleasure. There is a reason athletes perform better when there are others around. There is nothing like performing well and meet your own goals, but the motivation from your team, coaches, and the spectators is something in and of itself. I personally do not think I could have succeeded as much as I did in track without those watching and helping me along the way.

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  2. I completely agree with all of this. There is something about the atmosphere created by a bunch of fans that really hypes players up. It evokes a passion that simply cannot be achieved. with a lackluster fan section. Although it’s been a while since I’ve played sports I was in attendance of every Michigan home football game. The difference in play was clearly seen when there was a full student section in our game against penn state. Also as a member of the maize rage core we talk about the difference our cheers and attendance make at games and I believe that fan sections do play a part in play, even if it’s just giving that extra push to win the game.

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