GW feels the “Madness”

When the smoke, the explosions, the light show, the bicyclists, the flaming batons, the Hawaiian dancers, the flying balls, the waving towels, the slam-dunking mascot, the dancing Georges, the dancing girls, the sound and the fury had finally subsided, mere basketball almost seemed like an afterthought.

And for some early departees from “Midnight Madness,” it was. But for the fans who stayed after the “Madness” had subsided, the men’s and women’s basketball teams first official practices of the 1999-2000 season displayed some of the up-tempo athleticism that should, at the least, make this basketball season an exciting one.

The second-annual “Midnight Madness” at the Smith Center Friday night drew an unprecedented 5,000 fans, who lined up around the block in comfortable weather that belied the fact that Foggy Bottom’s winter athletic passion had finally arrived.

Outside, spotlights and clowns on stilts entertained the Family Weekend crowd. Inside the hazy arena, the strains of SportsCenter, DJ Kool tapes and the GW Band greeted the fans, who were treated to free goodies by the box.

If throwing commemorative balls across the court wasn’t one’s style, there was plenty of eye-candy to entertain, including stunt bicyclists, Redskinnetts, light shows and fire breathers – and that was all before the lights went out. The promised “extravaganza” left students marveling at what GW can do.

“It was probably the most school spirit I’ve seen at an event since I’ve been here,” said junior Oscar Pulido. “I hope it’ll carry over to the season.”

“It was wonderful that this school finally showed some spirit,” said junior Keith Granzin.

Indeed, one of the few other times in undergraduate memory that the Smith Center reverberated with so much enthusiasm was eight months ago when Shawnta Rogers sent Foggy Bottom into histrionics with his game-winning three-pointer. The “Madness” Friday night seemed to symbolize that GW had surely come a long way since “Colonial Madness” tepidly opened the basketball season when Mike Jarvis was the men’s coach.

“We now have `Midnight Madness’ like a lot of big schools do,” said David Burt of the Student Activities Center. “Last year was our first year, and we wanted to go bigger and better this year.”

The large crowd seemed to take the organizers by surprise, as the south upstairs stands had to be pushed back to create more seating. Burt said he expected that the 1999 “Midnight Madness” would be a huge draw for a campus increasingly hungry in recent years for spirit and basketball-related activities.

“If you keep promoting something, people will come,” he said. “It’s the one big thing every year that everyone goes to. I mean, everyone was there.”

Of course, when that many enthusiastic college students are brought together, some rowdy behavior is likely to occur. Many of the giveaway basketballs found their way onto the court, which elicited some warnings from master of ceremonies Glenn Harris (of NewsChannel 8). More dangerous by far was a bottle that was thrown and shattered on the court.”I can tell you that not everyone was pleased with the conduct of the crowd,” said Burt.

After the lights finally went out and the crowd was treated to Hawaiian dancing, flaming-baton twirling, a dunking exhibition from the Wizards mascot, the Sensations, the GW fight song and a randy performance from Big George, Little George and Martha, the men’s and women’s basketball teams finally took center stage (at a time a lot closer to 12:20 than midnight).

Women’s Coach Joe McKeown vowed that the team this year would focus on offense, scoring 90 points a game, and exhorted the crowd to turn out for a game with the Rutgers University Dec. 4.

Men’s coach Tom Penders evoked memories of last year’s Xavier game but was fairly cautious in making promises for the team, only asking the crowd to turn out for games and the team’s practices.

After the players were announced, they warmed up (with the men doing all they could to wow the crowd with dunk after dunk). The women’s team then took the floor for a five-minute scrimmage and the men followed with a 10-minute scrimmage. Both the warmups and scrimmages were fairly sloppy at times, and the contrast with the tight show beforehand might have had something to do with the number of fans who decided to call it a night when the basketball actually started. Still, the “Madness” had done the trick.

“I honestly believe it will carry over into the season,” Burt said. “The whole purpose is to generate excitement for the basketball season.”

“It was nice to get a look at the newcomers,” said Granzin. “I wasn’t familiar with (junior college transfer) Bernard Barrow or anyone like that. It was interesting to see who’s going to be shaking shit up this year.”

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