An Orange Wave: The resurgence of the Falcon Fanatics
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BGSU Falcon Fanatics are reclaiming their fervor, turning games into electric spectacles and elevating the game-day experience
Their goal has always been to fill the stadium, the court, the ice house or the pitch with noise, energy, enthusiasm and excitement for every Falcon game.
And they want the opposition to see nothing but orange, in every direction.
The Falcon Fanatics wear that “fanatic” tag with pride. This collection of Bowling Green State University fans is on a relentless mission to bolster Falcon athletics teams with frenzied support, all while making the opposition increasingly uneasy.
“We are out there trying to create a positive atmosphere for our student-athletes,” said Kyle Moyer, a graduate student in sport administration and one of the leaders of the Fanatics. “We are spreading the word and the response has been good. People are on board and more want to be a part of this, and I think we definitely have an impact on the game.”
They show up en masse for Falcon home games, often decked out in a planned theme attire – the Fanatics wore red, white and blue for the BGSU athletic events on Veterans Day.
“And sometimes we just put on as much orange attire as we can wear,” said sophomore education major Dillon Liskai, adding that the creativity of the Fanatics knows no boundaries.
That sea of orange assembles early and goes to work cranking up the energy and intensity well before the teams start play. Their intention is to not only express vociferous and animated support for Falcon athletes but also to spread the fever throughout the stands.
“The excitement starts way before the game begins, and as other BGSU fans arrive, we want them to see that there is this incredible atmosphere already in place,” Liskai said.
Taylor Jefferson, the assistant director of athletics for marketing and brand enhancement at BGSU, said that by injecting all of that passion and fervor into the environment, the Fanatics create an emotional tidal wave that courses over everyone.
“They really bring the energy to our athletic events, and the whole crowd and our teams feed off of their energy,” said Jefferson, who serves as the University's liaison with the group. “It is so important that people attending our games can feel that and experience that energy. It creates a bond and a sense of community among the students, so more and more of them want to be a part of this. We plan to continue to build on that.”
Liskai said the group is pleased that the Fanatics' fervor now is spreading beyond the residence halls and the campus.
“We are seeing an increase in the level of support and enthusiasm from the community because this is a contagious thing. Our fans in general have seen the environment that we help create on game days and they want to be a part of it. We see more young fans at the games, and we hope we are making them into Falcon fans for life.”
And the Fanatics take this show on the road. A boisterous collection of about 60 of the Fanatics took a bus to the recent football game at Kent State, which the Falcons won by a 49-14 score.
“We pretty much out-numbered the Kent State students at the game,” Liskai said.
Moyer said that BGSU Director of Athletics Derek van der Merwe has been instrumental in facilitating the road trips, and he has played a key role in putting the spark back in the Fanatics.
“The Fanatics had kind of diminished a few years ago, but when Derek came on board as the new AD, he wanted to bring some energy back to our athletic events,” Moyer said. “He had Taylor reach out to us and things have taken off from there. Derek is creative and he relates well with the students. He has been around to a lot of different places in his career so he brings a wide range of experience to this.”
As a former college athlete and a co-captain of the Central Michigan football team, van der Merwe certainly knows the importance of the home-field advantage and the support of a rabid fan base in the Mid-American Conference.
“Athletics is an experience to be shared by an entire campus community. Competition in an arena is more than just about those who are competing. It is about a community of people — past and present — who come together to rally behind a common vision and a quest for excellence," van der Merwe said. "When we raise championship banners, we want the story to be about how our BGSU students were instrumental in building the success of our programs.”
The Falcon Fanatics have been around for about a decade, but their informal membership numbers and participation at BGSU athletic events have experienced an ebb and flow. Moyer, Liskai and many others are convinced the group is rapidly trending upward, with no limit in sight.
“And that's our goal – to create an incredible atmosphere and environment for our Falcon teams,” Moyer said. “Being part of this is fun, and exciting, and it catches on once other students see how much we add to every athletic event.”
Liskai said he witnessed the roster of Fanatics swell over the past year, and he credits last season's Falcon women's basketball team with injecting new life into the concept of having a strong, active fan base.
“The NIT came along and things went crazy," he said.
The Falcon women beat Liberty, Memphis and Florida at home, and Green Bay on the road, to advance to the NIT semifinals, before losing to Columbia in front of more than 4,000 fans at the Stroh Center.
“Near the final games, we had 1,000 students there,” Liskai said. “You saw the students, the campus and the community come alive. Certainly, the team's success was huge, but I think the atmosphere was electric and the Falcon Fanatics had a lot to do with that.”
To say the group had a humble beginning might undersell the early days of the Fanatics. Luke Zerkle, who helped get the organization started about 10 years ago when he was an education major on campus, said he was one of just four highly animated and involved fans in the student section at a women's basketball game when a member of the athletic department asked the group to recruit 100 more students with the same level of passion for the Falcons.
“When you have a strong student section, it can really change the atmosphere in a very positive manner,” said Zerkle, who teaches social studies at Tippecanoe High School north of Dayton and returned to campus for a Fanatics reunion at the recent football game against Toledo.
“We weren't thinking about it at the time, but I believe the Fanatics were beneficial with the retention of students because finding that place where you belong can make all of the difference,” he said, adding that van der Merwe has reached out to the founding Fanatics for insight on the group's origin and foundation.
Caitlin Shortridge is another Fanatic alum who recalls the face paint, the shouting and the camaraderie in the stands.
“It's a very charismatic group that just draws you to them. We were passionate and supportive of our student-athletes,” said Shortridge, who is the coordinator of BGSU Recruitment and Outreach and holds three degrees from the University. “We wanted to get more people there to show that support.”
Liskai said the current Fanatics are riding a surge of momentum that he hopes to see continue throughout the winter sports calendar and beyond.
“When we all get together in the stands it's crazy – we call it Ziggyville -- with hundreds of students standing up and being loud and raucous,” he said. “There is a night and day difference when our teams have that kind of support. If we can bottle the energy and enthusiasm that we've seen at some events, we can really change things here at BGSU.”
Updated: 12/11/2023 12:09PM