Slap on the Wrist for Pirate Fans

by Eric Gilmore

Minges Coliseum was the exact image that ECU officials fantasized about upon entering Conference USA in basketball six years ago. Unfortunately, the atmosphere has only reached the ear piercing decibels of Wednesday night a handful of times.

The lack of a consistent fan base brings up a simple question; why can’t the Pirates fill the Minges on a regular basis? Is it a lack of marquee opponents, poor historical record or lowered expectations? For ECU officials and little ole me, trying to find an answer only brings up more questions.

First of all, kudos to the “sellout” crowd of 7,535 that watched the Pirates narrowly miss a prime upset opportunity of No .5 Memphis. At last check, the capacity of Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum was 8,100. How can a game be a “sellout” when 546 more people crammed inside to watch ECU upset Marquette in 2002?

I digress. Point is, the students came out in full force and the alumni did their part as well. Save for a couple of instances, the crowd was respectful. However, the “overrated” chant from the Minges Maniacs at the 10:59 mark in the first half probably wasn’t the brightest idea.

Even so, I think Terry Holland’s vision of creating a respectful, but tough environment was cemented. With the crowd at their backs, the Pirates dueled with one of the best teams in the nation.

“It makes us play harder when we have an environment like that,” said freshman guard Sam Hinnant.

“I just thought it was a great atmosphere in the arena,” said Ricky Stokes. “I know it gave us a lot of energy. It was loud and it was hot. It really provided the atmosphere for us to play well.”

In what was the only game that could be measured up the Memphis crowd, the Pirates handily defeated instate rival UNC Wilmington. Outside a trip to Winston-Salem, the two teams have been the best the Pirates have faced. Aside from the marquee opponents, take a retrospective look at the schedule.

Two teams that the Pirates should have beaten were instate teams UNC Greensboro and Western Carolina. Put 7,535 partisan fans in the crowd and there is little doubt the Pirates end up victorious. The same goes for the early season Gardner-Webb loss. If those three games swung in the Pirates’ favor, they’re entering the second game of C-USA play at 9-5.

Of course, would haves and should haves are pointless in athletics. But for argument’s sake, think of the boost the players got from Wednesday’s raucous crowd. In ECU’s 10 highest attended home games (including Wednesday night’s No. 6 ranking), the Pirates are 4-6.

Despite the Memphis contest, the crowds in 2005-2006 have been less than stellar. Through nine home games, the Pirates are averaging 5,226 fans per contest. If the season were to end now, the attendance would rank third of the six years in C-USA.

It shouldn’t take a top five opponent to bring fans out in droves. The lowered preseason expectations certainly drained early season student participation. And losing a couple of key noisemakers in the Maniac section hasn’t helped either.

But it’s still on the students to show up. Many of the students buying the $2 T-shirts from Pirate Radio 1250 & 930 AM were inside Minges for the first time all season. Instead of waiting for a name opponent, the “fair weather students” need to get behind the team at all times.

Wednesday night’s crowd was just a reminder of how much potential that basketball has in Greenville. If only every game could be as electric. Until the crowd finds their identity, the team will be searching for theirs as well.
Eric Gilmore