It takes a crowd to excite a crowd

Matt Hellman | Lariat Photographer
The Baylor courtside players provide game music during a women’s basketball game against Texas A&M Feb. 14 at the Ferrell Center. Baylor won 67-58.

By Lindsay Cash

Imagine entering the Ferrell Center on a Saturday evening for a huge conference rivalry game. Immediately upon arrival, an array of sounds, smells, chants and music engulf the fans as they find their way to their seats. The thrill of competition and battle between rivalries lie just ahead on the court.

Who will link the spectators and competitors?

The all-girl cheer squad, yell leaders and Baylor courtside players help fans connect with the action on the court.

The practices and time commitments of the dedicated cheerleaders show their loyalty to the university. The courtside players continually strive to enrich the athletic experience for athletes, fans or even opponents.

Dallas junior Claire Turner of the co-ed yell leader squad has not only provided the crowd with passion through cheering – she’s received it, too.

“I’ve become a huge Baylor athletics fan through my experience as a cheerleader. I’m so attached to the teams. Win or lose, it’s my job to be Baylor’s number one fan,” Turner said.

When it comes to cheering on the hardwood, Turner notes an essential component to amping the body of Baylor.

“The courtside players add to the atmosphere and crowd enthusiasm, and we depend on them more than we even know,” Turner said.

Lubbock junior Kourtney McMillian of the all-girl squad is on her third year of being an ambassador for Baylor through cheering.

“I love watching the teams getting pumped up, with every fan standing to their feet,” McMillian said.

“But it couldn’t happen without the band. They yell every cheer with us and are huge difference makers in the atmosphere.”

Arriving with energy overflowing the Ferrell Center doors, the courtside players do anything but hold back. From buzzer to buzzer, they sway, sweat and support while relentlessly backing the Bears.

Dr. Rick Espinosa, director of the courtside players, calls his crew the most dedicated fans in Baylor’s world of hardwood sports.

“We show up when everyone else doesn’t. We light the fire, and aim to give our team a home court advantage wherever we are,” Espinosa said.

A home court appearance requires 52 designated members arriving 45 minutes early before tipoff. La Grange senior percussionist David Corkill, whose favorite song is ‘Dynamite’ by Taio Cruz, enjoys teaming up with the cheerleaders in efforts to maintain the crowd hype.

“We love the cheer squads. They start the cheers and we continue them. Then, 10,000 people are doing it, too. We are their microphone,” Corkill said.

It’s important to note that the “microphone” projecting the music at Baylor basketball games is entirely original, Espinosa said.

“The courtside players use custom arrangements, meaning we don’t buy music from the stores. We make our own musical arrangements,” Espinosa said.

And the courtside players have every reason to take pride in the group skill. Encinitas, Calif., junior clarinet player Erika Ukkestad attends games as a courtside player, even when she isn’t assigned.

“We love it. Everyone is here because they want to be. Group members come when they aren’t even assigned to the game, like me, because I couldn’t imagine coming to cheer on the Bears without being a courtside player,” Ukkestad said.

Through all the cheering for the Bears, the courtside players never lose sight of their essential role to the game of basketball.

“The players only see the court as that square they’re playing on. So we know our job is to amp the crowd, and let the crowd feed into the game,” Corkill said.

But Espinosa recognizes the relationship of his courtside players and the student athletes at the conclusion of every game.

“The team needs us. The courtside players know the impact they have, and they love that moment after the games when they exchange high-fives with the teams,” Espinosa said. “One moment, we want to be the loudest, most energetic, most rabid fans as possible. But the moment we pick our instruments up, we want to sound beautiful.”