If you’ve been to a big basketball game this season, you may have seen a group of students in camo shirts surrounded by yellow caution tape standing at the front of the student section. To explain this occurrence, Bwog’s sports editor and resident Roar-ee Ross Chapman sat down with Harrison Shih (’16), a member of the varsity men’s golf team and the leader of the Roar Zone, the organized fan section at Columbia men’s basketball games.
Bwog: Are you an official leader of the Roar Zone?
Harrison: I guess you could pretty much say it’s official. Danny Spiegel in the athletics department approached me in the weeks leading up to the start of the basketball season. He wanted to get my opinion on whether or not we could start a true student section. I guess he approached me because, for the last two years, I’ve gone to the basketball games, and I’ve been the loudest there, and the rowdiest one there.
B: What exactly did you do in the pre-Roar Zone era?
H: I’ve always been an avid supporter of athletics. I would always come out to the basketball games. It was kind of a tradition that the golf team would come to a Friday night basketball game and then hang out afterwards, so I was pretty much always there. The access to the basketball court is a little bit easier than the football stadium, and I’m in season during the football games. So I’d go and pick on other players, if you will. And if there were enough people and enough of a vibe, I’d try to get some cheers going.
B: How did you recruit for the Roar Zone?
H: When we first announced it, we said that we want some pretty spirited students. We put it out on social media, and you had to submit a picture showing your spirit, whether it was you painted up at a football game, or with your teammates, or posing with Roar-ee, just showing some sort of Columbia athletics spirit. From there, we invited people, and that’s how you got into the Roar Zone.
B: How much power does Athletics exhibit over the Roar Zone?
H: To be honest, hardly at all. I’ve got to give them credit for approaching me and giving me this opportunity, so in that sense they’ve got a good hand in it. And then they were able to get us the shirts that some of us wear at the games, and the pizza at the games. But they don’t have control over telling us what to say, and when.
B: Why doesn’t the Roar Zone show up at any women’s games?
H: I think it’s because the turnout is generally higher at the men’s games. It’s harder… And they’re coming off of a really good season, they were in the quarterfinals of the CIT tournament. It was the best season in forty-ought years. The projection was positive for the upcoming season, and I guess, naturally there’s a bit more focus placed on the men’s teams. As it is, it was really hard to get people to commit to ten games on the men’s side, which is what we had asked of the Roar Zone. Putting the same amount on the women’s side was gonna be a big problem. This is just something we had to do for at least this first year in the Roar Zone’s existence.
B: How do you get people to commit to ten games?
H: It was an honorary commitment. It’s been tough to actually get everybody to come to all eight games thus far. In that regard, it’s been a little bit tough. We had a good bit of people say that they were joining, and then… I think the Roar Zone’s been a success, but obviously, having people actually commit to every single game for the entire two hours has been tough. It’s something that we knew going in would be a problem, and we weren’t sure about how to get people there every single time.
B: How much of the Roar Zone would you say is at your level of school spirit?
H: I mean, I’m not gonna knock anybody down. I think there’s definitely some good spirit in the Roar Zone. It just so happens that people tell me that I’ve got one of the loudest voices they’ve ever heard. So it might be hard to match me in that regard. But they’re there, cheering the players on. Any time I call out a chant, they’re there, so they’re just as willing to put up some spirit as I am, which feels great.
B: How do you think people feel about the Roar Zone, and how do you feel about that?
H: I think it’s been pretty well received. At a couple games in the beginning, I know some people in the band were calling us out because we were the only ones getting pizza. They were calling us the 1%, which obviously isn’t too nice. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I hope that people would come and see it as a step in the right direction to try to put Columbia athletics more on the map, and to raise the awareness of school spirit. There is a lot of spirit within the school. I hope that it has been well received, and I really haven’t heard anything negative about it. I’ve never had anybody come up to me and say anything negative. So I guess no reaction is good reaction.
B: We have some quotes here about the Roar Zone that we want you to hear. Cory Osetkowski said in an interview with us, “The Roar Zone is a great addition. They help us out a lot with their cheering and heckling of other teams.”
H: A little quick history from me, I came from Bergen Catholic over in New Jersey, and we were always rated the number one cheering section in the tristate area. So I learned a lot from there about being loud and being part of an organized cheering section. I’ve kind of learned that when to heckle and cheer is about who you’re playing and how big your crowd is. If you’ve got the stands filled, it’s gonna be easier to get people to cheer, the sound is going to be more full. But on some of the weekday games when the crowd was thinner, you could get a full voice out from just one person and heckle. And I’ve gotten some pretty bad reactions back from opposing players, which is good. It’s fun giving the Lions as much of a home court advantage as possible.
B: And here’s one I’ll keep anonymous. “Each constituent member of this slimy, inconsistent jock froth sits and ponders future chances to play off the administration’s need for validation.”
H: I’m just gonna fall back on “no comment” about that one. There’s a lot of hate in that one that I don’t really care to respond to.
B: Do you have any favorite player on the basketball team?
H: [Harrison went on a long discussion of the team’s roster before being pressed again for a favorite.] Maodo’s pretty fun to watch. I would say Maodo and Frankie [Steve Frankoski] are my two, because of the way they can shoot the ball from long distance.
B: Do you have any message that you want to get out to the Columbia community?
H: In the past three years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen growth in the athletic department. To the Columbia community, I would say come out, support athletics some more. I know that there’s been articles in the past that have put a serious knock down on Columbia athletics. I think it’s a chicken and egg thing. You really can’t have good strong seasons without support, but fans want to see something to support. Athletes always appreciate fans. And it’s a fun time to come out to games. I know I’ve had people say to me after games, “Wow, it’s actually kind of fun to stand up the entire game, and cheer, and go through some funny, stupid chants.” Continue to come out and support. We appreciate it, I know guys on the team appreciate it. And go Lions!
School spirit photo courtesy Harrison Shih