In the world of college athletics, basketball is rivaled only by football. Fans camp out in adverse winter weather just to get tickets to sit in the rafters at their school’s game, but no one is fighting for the best yellow seats in the Mabee Center.
Where have all of the ORU fans gone?
“In the ’70s and ’80s, you had to line up 30 minutes before games to get into the student sections and not sit in the blue section,” said ORU Athletic Director Mike Carter.
College basketball attendance was high in those years and was a targeted focus of ORU founder, Oral Roberts.
“ORU hopes to present a Christian witness to [sports fans] now,” said Roberts in a booklet prepared for the Mabee Center opening in 1972. “Our basketball team, which is competing successfully with NCAA colleges and universities, is receiving national newspaper and television recognition and is having a vital witness for Christ.”
Roberts viewed athletics, especially basketball, as an avenue to spread the Gospel and reflect ORU’s mission to bring the good news into every man’s world. Within this focus, a group of dedicated student supporters arose.
“10 years ago, the Maniacs were huge. You would have 200 to 300 students in the student section dressed up and excited,” said Aaron Brown, director of student experience at ORU.
The Mabee Maniacs were the student formed and led spirit section at athletic events. The Maniacs were known for theme nights and extreme enthusiasm.
With the high energy came offensive practices. At other colleges during this time, student sections became excessive and offensive to the visiting teams and overall basketball culture.
“There was some concern that the Maniacs were trending towards that,” said Brown.
“One myth that is out there is that we terminated the Maniacs, which is not true,” Carter said. “We tried to address behavior that we thought was inappropriate. They decided if they couldn’t do anything they wanted to do, then they would just quit.”
After the Maniacs faded, they became the Ozone.
The name changed to the Ozone three years ago.
“Some people wanted a name change to change the culture,” said Brown.
With the name change came some policy changes. Theme nights were no longer allowed. Body-painting took the place of the costumes. The Ozone hoped to be an outlet for students to enjoy basketball games safely and with properly channeled energy.
After the switch, Ozone participation declined. Richard McCutchen, the ORU assistant athletic director of marketing, reported that the average student attendance for home double-headers this season is 200-300 students.
Though the attendance amount may seem decent, few of those attending participate in a concerted effort to cheer for the Golden Eagles.
With the Ozone depletion, the Mabee Maniacs have come back to support ORU in the truest sense of the word.
A Maniac, by definition, is a person who has an excessive enthusiasm or desire for something, in this case, basketball.
Austin Whitaker, an ORU junior, believes the Mabee Maniacs could bring back some maniacal enthusiasm at ORU basketball games.
“Looking at pictures, you could tell how many people were in the gold seats, the lower section. It was packed,” said Whitaker. “The Maniacs were doing things that weren’t representing our school right. They had school spirit, but it was not in a constructive manner.”
Thus came the Ozone and the policy changes. The reconfiguring resulted in less student participation. However, The Maniac comeback is being fostered on a different foundation.
“What’s great about this group coming forward is they recognize some of the issues of the past and why the organizations weren’t successful in being able to continue on generation after generation,” said Carter. “I think they are taking some nice steps to fix that.”
As Whitaker begins the move towards forming the Maniacs, he recognizes the need for a different focus.
“People don’t view basketball games with a high priority, and they also don’t view basketball games as much of a social outing,” said Whitaker.
Basketball games are not limited to yelling, body paint and synchronized chants. Every media timeout has competitions with prizes redeemable at area restaurants and businesses.
Also, ORU cheerleaders toss out t-shirts. Above all, students can enjoy the revered community fostered at ORU and change the atmosphere of the Mabee Center.
“The more students we have that are passionate about athletics, the more energy they are going to create,” said Carter. “The more energy they create then the more energetic the entire crowd is going to be. Then it builds a buzz, and I think it helps sell tickets. It builds attendance and in the end builds more excitement for the basketball team which gives us a home court advantage.”
The Maniacs might be the catalyst into renewed athletic support.
“What I love about them is their passion and their interest. I think they want to make this something that is strong going forward and will last a long time,” said Carter.
The Mabee Maniacs commence this tradition this weekend. They are looking for support at the homecoming double header on Feb. 8 against Southern Louisiana.
The Maniacs themed the game “Blue and Gold Crew” and charge ORU students to adorn the Golden Eagle colors and stand for the ORU basketball team and ORU’s mission.