They can be creative, loud and supportive. They can be expressive, humorous and sometimes borderline offensive. And while they are not actually allowed to step foot on it, student sections can often have a large impact on the basketball court.
They’re job is simple: Cheer on their teams as loud as they can for as long as they can and help them get motivated and energized for the game whether it be against a region rival or a winless opponent who is clearly overmatched.
Like one high school coach said, “They’re what high school sports are all about.”
“I don’t pay a lot of attention to it as a coach, but I know it means a lot to the players,” said first-year Flowery Branch boys coach Duke Mullis. “I know they thrive off it.”
It would be hard not to.
From the opening tip to the final buzzer, a good student section is into the game, chanting in the hopes of helping their team win.
“It gets you hyped,” Gainesville senior Nick Johnson said of a loud student section. “The student section is worth a couple points alone.”
Especially in close games, which was evident during Tuesday’s game between Gainesville and Flowery Branch, a game that the Falcons won by two points and featured an amped up home crowd cheering on their beloved Falcons.
“We pumped our boys up all night and it helped them,” Flowery Branch senior Jennica Ramey said. “They really want us to be here.”
And why wouldn’t they? According to one Gainesville player, competing in front of a good crowd provides a unique feeling to high schoolers.
“It feels like you’re playing college basketball,” Red Elephants senior George Manomano said.
Other players find it more difficult to put that feeling into words.
“It’s really hard to describe,” Flowery Branch’s Josh Barrett said of playing in front of a loud section of his peers. “It’s one of the greatest feelings ever. It’s real intense.”
Providing their team with positive energy is the main goal of any good student section, but that positivity isn’t spread through the normal forms of “Go team, go.” Student sections pride themselves on creativity, normally displayed through the form of a chant.
“He’s a freshman! He’s a freshman!” They may chant after one of their team’s ninth-graders scores a basket.
“You can’t do that! You can’t do that!” They repeat after a traveling or offensive foul is called on an opposing player.
Most of those chants are so loud that they overshadow a group of people whose job it is to cheer on the basketball teams, the cheerleaders.
“They influence the game a lot more than we do,” said North Hall senior cheerleader Kate Williams.
Yet while some people may get upset about not being heard, the cheerleaders are fine with the noise the student sections provide.
“If we do a cheer they’ll join in,” said North Hall senior cheerleader Erin Brady. “We both do our parts, it’s sort of a group effort.”
But unlike their cheerleading counterparts, what makes a student section so unique is their freedom of speech.
“We try to yell G-rated throughout the game, even though sometimes it gets intense,” North Hall senior Nolan Clark said. It’s in those intense times that the creativity can become offensive.
The chants become directed at the opposing team and their student section, which was a cause for concern during the Dec. 16 boys game between North Hall and Gainesville.
In a game that featured bitter rivals, the two student sections were as entertaining and supportive as possible. Both sections were dressed from head to toe in school colors. Both chanted nonstop from the get-go. But as the Red Elephants began to pull away from the Trojans, the student sections lost focus on the game and put all their energy in the opposing team and their fans.
The chants went from creative to personal, and the game ended with Gainesville’s student section tossing bouncy balls on the court with less than five seconds left to play.
“I felt it was ridiculous,” Clark said of the atmosphere in Gainesville’s gym that night. “The girls kind of got control in that game. You don’t call each other mean names, it’s about the game.
“You don’t address the other team’s lifestyle,” he added. “That Gainesville game got out of control and it was a fitting end with the bouncy balls.”
Not only did the ending of the game diminish the great contest between both teams, but it put a dark cloud on the student sections across the county, causing most school administrators to limit what can and can’t be done during a basketball game.
No school felt the effects more than Gainesville, which has seen a decline in the number of students in the section since the incident a month ago. Gainesville’s head coach Todd Cottrell knows the fans acted inappropriately during that game, but he stands by the support his team receives from the student section.
“Our student section is fantastic and we love the way they support our team, but that particular night they went overboard and it could have caused an injury to a player, and that’s not what you want,” he said.
While he wouldn’t say what disciplinary action was taken, Gainesville athletic director Wayne Vickery did say that it was handled within the school and he felt that it was handled the right way.
“We don’t condone stuff like that, and hopefully it won’t happen again,” Vickery said. “You don’t ever know what’s going to happen when you’re dealing with 15- and 16-year-old kids. It’s toned down a lot since that game.”
That was evident Tuesday as Gainesville’s student section was clearly outnumbered during the game at Flowery Branch, and both coaches believed the loud students of Flowery Branch had an impact on the final outcome.
“Anytime you have a positive student section, that’s worth a lot to your team, especially on your home court,” Cottrell said.
Added Mullis, “I felt like we had a sixth man tonight. Whether we like it or not, as coaches, it’s definitely a factor in energy levels and adrenaline and playing hard.”
But when the student sections take it too far, consequences must be rendered.
According to Flowery Branch athletic director Shannon Benton, the punishment for students crossing the line at basketball games or any other sporting event is the same as if those kids were to do something inappropriate during school hours.
With that in the back of their minds, student sections seemingly have toned it down during recent weeks.
The chants are not as omnipresent as they once were. The ribbing of the opposition or the opposing student section is nonexistent.
“Most of the things you want to do you can’t do,” said Flowery Branch senior Natalie Pilcher. “But our student section does a great job, they’re respectful.”
According to Pilcher, being respectful is the best thing you can do to support your team.
“If you can cheer on your team it can help them outshine the other team,” she said. “You don’t have to talk trash to the other team.”
It’s the trash talking toward the other team and opposing student sections that has Vickery concerned about the direction the fans are headed.
“A lot of the times it seems like the kids aren’t even paying attention to the game,” he said. “I think student sections are good for the game as long as they keep it clean and not make it racial or personal.”
That sentiment is echoed by North Hall’s Clark, who like most students still enjoy a good old-fashioned heckling of an opposing players, as long as it doesn’t cross the line.
“You can say they’re terrible at basketball, but don’t say anything about their mom,” he said. “We’re a student section, a student body and we’re supposed to cheer for our team.”
When that’s done the right way it can do nothing but have a positive impact on the team.
“I think there’s a feeling of we’re letting more people down and I think they want everyone to be pleased after the game,” Mullis said. “You feel like you’re carrying the weight of the school, the weight of the community, so it makes you want to hang in there and do your best ’til the end.”
While the players are hanging in their hoping to provide victory, a loud student section can all but ensure that a win is obtained.
“Whoever makes the most noise wins the game,” Manomano said. “That’s how it goes.”
As it should.