UWM students: Panther Basketball can be your escape

Hey students!

Yeah, I’m talking to you – some 28,000 or so of you.

You’re coming back to campus this weekend for the start of the spring semester. Hopefully you enjoyed your month off, with Christmas presents, hanging out with old friends and spending 10 hours a day staring at a wall…or video games…or your phone. It’s refreshing, having a month to do pretty much nothing.

Or, maybe you’re like I was, a commuter student who worked more during the break. Perhaps you’re a non-traditional student who has a family, so you didn’t have much of a break. Or maybe you took a Winterim class, refusing yourself the chance to unwind. You don’t have time to rest. As that ancient proverb says, there ain’t no rest for the wicked. That was a proverb, right?IMG_8995

Honestly, students today are getting pulled in 1,000 different directions. Almost all of you work. You’ve got full-time jobs, full-time school, full-time internships and full-time life. I get it. It’s insanity. You’re trying to squeeze as much as you can out of these four years – or five, five-and-a-half or six.

What if I told you there was a glorious place, where you can let go of all of it? You can go somewhere, join your fellow over-taxed students, and scream at the top of your lungs. You can forget about how mid-terms seem to start, like, the third week of classes. You can forget about that stupid thing you said to your crush and how you’re gonna just avoid them in the union from now on.

Come. Join us. Join us.

The Milwaukee Panthers play three games in the next week. Saturday, the Panthers host Detroit at 3 pm downtown. Monday, it’s an 8 pm tilt with Oakland. Friday the 29th, it’s the archrivals Green Bay coming to town for what will be a huge game. Every single one of them is slated for ESPN’s family of networks. Every single one of them is against a very good basketball team. Every single one of them is free, with free buses from the residence halls ready to take you to the game and bring you back to campus afterward.

IMG_9137Well, they’re not exactly free. You paid for them. You paid for them out of your tuition, a modest $120 or so that helps support an athletics program of hundreds of your fellow students. We all thank you for pooling your collective resources and making this program possible. Just don’t forget – you paid for it, so you might as well use it.

You don’t have to like basketball. Hell, you don’t have to like sports. You can literally just come, talk trash, then go home and back to your daily grind. I knew plenty of people who came to games when I ran the student section who had never cared about sports before and haven’t since, but came to basketball games at UWM because being in the student section was just too damn fun.

Thinking about not coming because you’re a closet hipster? You don’t like the ‘sportz’ because you’re too cool for school? Well guess what, hombre, there’s nothing more hipster than being a Milwaukee Panthers fan. You can go to every alt-goth-folk-hardcore-jambaroo at the Miramar you want, you’re still not as hipster as a Milwaukee Panthers fan. I’ve spent a decade being asked “Why do you care about UWM basketball so much?”

UWMvsUWMadison_0013_Layer 5It’s Milwaukee Panthers basketball, first off, and second it’s because holy hell is it exciting. It’s fun. I watch these 15 kids who go to school full-time and work on basketball fuller-time put on a jersey that represents MY alma mater and go kick some other group of kids up and down the hardwood.

They are all hard workers, on the court and in the classroom. You’re probably thinking to yourself, “yeah right, it’s college basketball, they don’t actually do schoolwork.” They do. They got hit with a postseason ban for the 2014-15 season and none of the kids on that team even did anything to deserve it – they paid for the sins of guys long gone. These kids, on this team, work their asses off. This past semester, they put a 3.2 cumulative GPA on the scoreboard, breaking the record they set the previous semester, a record that was set by breaking the numbers of the previous semester. They’re not just students, they’re on the honor roll.

UWMvsUWMadison_0005_Layer 13These kids don’t take B.S. classes, and they major in real tracks – accounting, education, information technology, finance, marketing – so maybe you should show up to their games because one day they could be your boss. I should know, my boss was a Panther hoops player back in the 90’s. And if you don’t think these guys aren’t sacrificing their bodies to represent your school, you should know that boss of mine has a bad back and bad knees and wouldn’t hesitate to do it all again, putting on the Milwaukee jersey and hitting big shots.

He was on the last team to beat the Wisconsin Badgers, back in 1992. That is, until this season, when the current Panthers walked into the Kohl Center, played a sub-par game and still walked out winners. They’re good. They’re DAMN good. Their sacrifice of time and energy commands your respect. If you can give it, they deserve your full-throated support as well.

So don’t forget that these guys spend something like 85 hours a week between actual schoolwork and basketball to represent you out there. They’re also out there in the community, doing all kinds of work, representing you in more than just basketball games.

UWMvsUWMadison_0004_Layer 14But don’t just go out there to games because they represent you, or because you’ve already paid for it. Go to games because it’s fun. I was never Mr. Student Section in high school, and you’d have more likely found me in the Rec Center playing Halo rather than at a soccer or volleyball game my first semester on campus. But I went to that first basketball game, and I was hooked.

You see, there’s no filter. I love having no filter. I loved being able to just yell whatever came to mind, talking trash and being able to just let it go. Once the buzzer sounded and the game was over, it was back to the normal – beer pong, studying in the union terrace and working to put myself through school.

But basketball afforded me the opportunity to give up all of my fears and worries, three hours at a time. Basketball games are the best therapy, the chance to just let go of all your inhibitions and taunt the other team with all kinds of stuff that can’t be said on the internet, lest they be recorded forever in the interwebz. The fact that I got to do it with friends and created a whole lot more by going to basketball games was just an added bonus.

UWMvsUWMadison_0002_Layer 16We know you’re on social media, so there’s about a 5% chance you haven’t heard about the new WIAA rules regarding cheers that high school student sections cannot do at games.

Students can’t yell Scoreboard, they can’t yell Airball, they can’t even chant USA because it apparently has some meaning I had no idea it carried. They can’t turn their backs on the opposing team during introductions, they can’t be in any way negative towards the opposing team.

It’s ridiculous, it’s outlandish, it’s the gross overcompensation of the politically correct in 2016.

It also basically outlines everything I’m encouraging you to do as a part of the Milwaukee student section. As long as you’re not calling people racial slurs or sexual orientation slurs, it’s pretty much fair game. You can yell it on your own, or turn it into a chant and make 1,000 to 3,000 other college students turn into total jerks.

I’m encouraging it, right now. Come out tomorrow, Monday and Friday (and beyond). Yell it. Yell all of it. Make a player on the other team cry. I did. It was satisfying. I can’t do what I used to do, because I’m not in that wonderful, defined section in the north baseline that should almost carry a sign that says “FREE SPEECH ZONE.”

1621835_10101751890898658_861491504_nWe did some ridiculous things to other teams’ players. We got a hold of one player’s cell number and called him all night before an 11 am game the next day. Another player’s cell number got chanted at him when he was on the free throw line. One time, our chancellor got a letter from UIC’s chancellor complaining that our student section was too mean in their chants and taunts toward the UIC team and fans. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud in my life. It was like seeing your kid bring home a report card with straight A’s.

When I was a freshman, one of the senior guys dressed up in a pink nightie, blonde wig and silver bicycle helmet. He then drew on a Rollie Fingers mustache and “AVO 3” on his chest (our sophomore Avery Smith was #3 at the time). For free throws, the whole student section sat down while he did a sensual dance for Loyola players. They missed a lot of them. Was doing something so outlandish worth it? Hell yes it was worth it, it was the Horizon League Tournament. No joke, that guy is a lawyer in Washington D.C. now.

Those are all great memories, and I’ve got over 100 more. Now it’s time for you to create your own.

MAYBEBACKCome to games. Create theme nights. Stage ridiculous skits to make opposing players miss free throws. Come up with incredible traditions. Create stupid dances to do during band songs. Bring your EDM dance party to the basketball game. Make GameDay your day, where basketball is just the main event of a day spent letting go of all the stress and partying it up.

Go ahead. Get your friends, day drink, hop on the bus, go to the game, taunt the other team the entire time they’re out on the floor, cheer on your classmates, then go celebrate the victory by having another beer when you get back. It’s the college experience that has eluded UWM students for years now. We used to tap a keg, drink a load of it, go have a blast at the basketball game, then turn around and finish the keg. What’s stopping you current students from doing that this time? Just make sure you take care of yourselves and you can do pretty much anything you want within reason.

Now’s the time, especially with a great basketball team on the floor, for the students to recognize that you’re leaving a ton of fun on the table.

10014688_10203242220678427_2014717569_nI’ll leave you with this: when the student section is full for men’s basketball, it is the largest student section in the country, almost 50% larger than the student section at UW-Madison. It’s up to you, the students, to fill it. Take a few hours out of your day, get together with your friends and just go have some fun. There’s nothing stopping you.

Too often when I was a student, I’d hear someone complain that the college experience at UWM wasn’t fun, or wasn’t a traditional college experience. Or that they didn’t feel like they were at a real school. I’d invite them to a basketball game, and they’d never say anything like it again.

The traditional, fun, real college experience is there for you. You just have to be willing to take the opportunity and make it your own.

Forgive the pun, but the ball is in your court, students of UWM.

Don’t turn it over.



The Milwaukee Panthers play three times in the next week, you are cordially invited to attend:

Saturday, January 23rd at 3 p.m. at Panther Arena against Detroit

Monday, January 25th at 8 p.m. at Panther Arena against Oakland

Friday, January 29th at 7 p.m. at Panther Arena against Green Bay

Student tickets have been prepaid through segregated fees, as are the buses that will begin taking students from campus to the games every 15 minutes beginning 90 minutes before game time each game day.


Jimmy Lemke

President, Black and Gold Club

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