REESE – Everything about Reese is small – the dot on the map, the town itself, its population, its number of retail stores, the high school gym.
But one thing looms large, especially for opponents stepping into the school’s gym this winter: the spirit of the Rowdy Rockets.
Town folk will tell you. On a blustery Friday night in Reese, there isn’t much to discuss in the way of making plans. They’re already made. If the boys or girls basketball team is playing at home, the gym on S. Van Buren Road is the only place to be.
“You get more than 20 people there, it’s like 80 percent of Reese,” junior Nick Arnold said. “After the games, we hold town meetings.”
All joking aside, it was the hot spot again Friday night for a Greater Thumb Conference boys varsity match-up with Cass City. By the third quarter of the junior varsity contest, the bleachers were nearly full.
Reese is one of five finalists for the MHSAA Student Advisory Council’s “Battle of the Fans” competition. MHSAA staff visited both the Rockets and Grand Rapids Christian on Friday after starting the tour Jan. 21 at Frankenmuth. Trips will be made to both Rockford and Petoskey over the next three weeks, with videos of all five finalists posted on the MHSAA Facebook page. After an online vote and SAC discussion, the winner will be announced on Feb. 24. Clips from all five MHSAA-produced videos will be shown during the Girls and Boys Basketball Finals in March at the Breslin Center.
The full bleachers are great news for a school that struggled some in recent seasons to get good student turnout. Few would show up, or show little enthusiasm. That led to grumbling in the parent section about the lack of support.
Last season, that began to change as a group of student leaders began to emerge and organize what today has become the Rowdy Rockets.
“Our student section is absolutely awesome. I love the energy, the excitement, the positive,” Reese athletic director Dave Derocher said.
“You just get that one person,” junior Drea Ramirez said. “And that one person will start a fire.”
Students streamed into the stands Friday covered in maroon and gold – not by choice, but by mandate.
That directive came during a 20-minute pep assembly at the end of the school day during which the Pep Club solidified the section’s cheers for that night’s game.
“We told them this afternoon, ‘You aren’t getting in if you’re not wearing the colors,’” junior Kyle Yatsevich said.
The Rowdy Rockets kicked things off by forming a fan tunnel for the hoops team to run through during its grand entrance. It was hard to tell who was more fired up, fans or players.
The first instruction given from the bleachers during the opening quarter was one of a decidedly less rowdy nature. The entire section sat in silence for nearly half of the first period of play – by design. Then Reese scored its sixth point – and roughly 150 students (of about 350 in the student body total) launched from their seats and screamed for the entirety of the ensuing Cass City possession. The silent treatment had officially ended.
There weren’t many quiet moments to be had inside the gym thereafter. Repeats of “DE-FENSE,” the always-popular “spirit fingers” during Reese free throws and plenty of pre-planned cheers involving change in possession put exclamation points on game play throughout the night.
Two sing-a-longs in particular brought the section to a boil: arms flailed during “YMCA,” and voices carried during a (surprisingly well-sung) version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.’” The sea of maroon and gold was unified in nearly everything it did, including a fan roller coaster that would rival any student section.
Halftime also brought that feeling of unity. The Reese Pom team darted onto the floor, but only after the entire student section had rushed to snag seats on the hardwood in front of the team benches. Rowdy Rockets sat in appreciation of the two-minute routine and then cheered for their schoolmates, just as they had done all evening for the basketball squad. Senior Pep Club leader Cassidy Stephens instigated the class-by-class Tug-of-War contest that completed the halftime festivities.
Throughout the evening, the theme of all-encompassing support was especially clear.
“Why would you want to take and follow someone who always is pessimistic, down in the dumps,” Arnold added. “You’ve gotta be up and cheery. I’m not saying we’re all walking around as Pippy Longstocking. But we’re pretty happy people. … You’re always leading by example.”
In the end, the Rockets pulled out a win over Cass City – and in a way that only a small-town gym can attest, the fans took as much pride in that victory as the players themselves.
They played to the point Arnold had made during the assembly earlier that day.
“We always try to be positive and loud. Those are the hallmarks of our student section,” he said. “We want to be the sixth man on the court.”
Check back Tuesday afternoon for video of the Rowdy Rockets in action.
PHOTOS by Reese senior Katie Ackerman and junior Abbie Gnatkowski. Report by the MHSAA's Andi Osters.