Geneseo has accomplished a lot this hockey season and with it a growing attendance at the Ira S. Wilson Ice Arena. However, there is a difference between attracting bandwagon fans and creating a dedicated, enthusiastic fan base.
The latter has been Justin Swackhamer’s goal. The senior history major from Geneseo State has been relentless the past two years in attempting to duplicate what he experienced as a child. His parents were booster club members of the Elmira College hockey team. Swackhamer spent many a weekend night attending Elmira games. He learned a lot from those impressionable years.
“I got the ideas from all around,” he said. “My parents were part of the booster club there [Elmira]. That and I have friends at D-I schools. I have one friend at Syracuse who plays in the pep band, and I have a friend at Colgate.”
The ideas he got were to develop a pep band and market the team. When he started the pep band a year ago, only six students showed up. Now, it’s up to about 18-20.
“The kids enjoy it,” he said. “They look forward to it every year. We get together 45 minutes before the game and go through the songs. We try to learn one to two new songs each time, but now we just concentrate on what we have and practice that.”
Swackhamer doesn’t hide the fact they were initially a long way from being confused with the Michigan pep band.
“We took our punches,” he admitted. “People made fun of it. We weren’t too good at first. There were some comments criticizing us on the [USCHO.com] message board about it.”
They have come a long way, traveling to away games and adding a true college atmosphere to home games.
“I think reception has changed over the year,” Swackhamer said. “We now get some positive comments from opposing fans.”
By the time you are a senior, you know how to adjust your classes, so you can sleep in. Swackhamer does have his mornings free, but he chooses to spend it spreading the word.
“On Wednesday and Thursdays, I get up extra early, six o’clock in the morning, and go around the entire campus to write on all the chalk boards about the upcoming hockey games and who they are playing.”
Swackhamer and two co-eds, Hiroko Yuki and Erin Caldwell, formed the unofficial hockey marketing and promotion group. Besides sneaking into the classrooms before school starts, the three meet every week to plan out the between period contests, collect prizes from downtown shops, and run the contests during the games.
All of this has made hockey games the activity to go to on campus. Geneseo coach Brian Hills appreciates their efforts.
“He’s done a great job,” Hills said. “They took the initiative and do it all on their own time. He came to me wanting to start a pep band. I said go ahead. They’ve helped create a great atmosphere here for Geneseo hockey games.”
Ironically, Swackhamer missed tonight’s game. When I spoke to him, he was in Pennsylvania driving down to Florida for spring break. Most of the band appeared to have done the same thing, as just one drummer was in attendance.
Despite the spring break glitch, Swackhamer’s efforts to create an exciting college hockey atmosphere has paid off — despite the loss, the Geneseo student section stood and cheered their team in the final seconds and then chanted “Geneseo” during the handshakes. The appreciation surely goes both ways.