IF YOU GO
• What: Women's "Throwback Game," Mocs women's basketball team vs. Appalachian State
• Where: Maclellan Gym, corner of Vine and Douglas streets
• When: 2 p.m. Saturday
• Tickets: $10 adults, $8 children
• For more information: 266-MOCS
• Note: Since McKenzie Arena is hosting Monster Jam (the truck extravanganza) this weekend, the women's basketball game has been moved to Maclellan Gym. Big Mac was home to basketball games before McKenzie Arena opened in 1982, so this has been dubbed a "throwback game." Geoff Wilcox says music has been downloaded from each year in the decade of the 1980s. After every song plays, it will be followed by a Mocs fact from that year. The next men's home game is Thursday, Feb. 13, vs. Western Carolina.
Inside McKenzie Arena, the UTC men's basketball team warms up to thumping hip-hop beats. As the starting lineups are announced, AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" rumbles through the air. Electronica from the group Zombie Nation gets things jumping at tipoff.
With a winning record, increasing student interest and home crowds that have hit more than 6,600, men's basketball at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is riding a wave of energy. And, at each home game, Kyle Askew and Geoff Wilcox try to grab that energy and pump it even higher.
Despite an age gap of almost 40 years, the two work as one as the deejays at Mocs sports events. Wilcox, 27, is director of marketing and promotions for UTC Athletics. Askew, 63, is technical director for McKenzie Arena and handles all the arena's audio.
"It's a lot easier for a fan to get into a game and cheer on the home team when interactive music is being played," explains Wilcox.
With a 15-8 record going into Thursday night's game with Eastern Kentucky University, the Mocs are attracting crowds that, in some cases, double those from years past. The past two homes games, for instance, have brought in more than 5,000 fans each.
Men's coach Will Wade says the raucous fun inside McKenzie Arena is one of the keys to the team's success this year.
"The atmosphere at our home games this year has been outstanding and the support of the community, especially the students, has been a big reason for our success," he says. "It starts with the band and the student section, and the rest of the crowd feeds off their energy."
From his seat at the end of the scorer's table on the floor, Wilcox uses a computer program on his laptop to choose sound effects, which transmit to Askew at the nearby soundboard.
The "whoop" sound effect when a free throw swishes -- that's Wilcox.
The "clap your hands" spirit prompt? Also Wilcox.
Askew also controls the audio feed for the arena's Jumbotron screen.
"I've got two channels of audio from the video room," he says. "I've got a channel that I send audio back to them where they can hear what's going on out on the floor as well."
And it's not just a case of pumping up the home crowd. At a recent home game against the Spartans from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Askew and Wilcox paired with the video team (Owen Seaton, Andy Paige and Leah Gill) to create an opening salvo they hoped might get inside the heads of the opposing team.
After the vistors' lineup was introduced, the arena's Jumbotrons lit up with Mocs guard Gee McGhee shooting his 70-foot, halftime buzzer-beater. As it banked into the basket, the crowds onscreen and in the arena roared to life. Just to be sure the Spartans felt that intimidation, the video ran again before the Mocs' lineup was introduced.
That idea and others are hatched behind the scenes at what Wilcox calls "basketball atmosphere" meetings.
Wilcox and his staff, which includes graduate assistants Jenni Martin and Jessica Roseberry, meet monthly with band director Erika Schafer, cheerleader representative Ashley Skiles, Mocs Vision video board crew and Ryen Rae from the SGA Athletics Committee. They discuss music and other ideas to pump up the crowd.
"We're doing our best to make sure people are having fun with the music," says Wilcox.
Hip-hop tops the playlist. Wilcox says he takes song suggestions from students and Mocs players since that's the music they want to hear.
"Our guys picked out a lot of the music you hear before the season," says Wade. "Geoff does a great job of integrating that into the game, and Kyle keeps everything tied together."
Even though he and the players are focused on the game, Wade says they can tell that arena announcer Scott "Quake" McMahan, Moc Maniac Dewayne Gass and the music "definitely has an effect on the atmosphere."
Wilcox says his committee tries to satisfy four groups with their music choices: students, season ticketholders, walk-up fans and players. All music choices are screened to make sure they are family-appropriate before being played in the arena, he says.
Askew says he has played music for athletics events since the arena opened in 1982, but "we just ad-libbed it."
"We had an intro song we always played and then the band or I played music. We had hand signals back and forth to show who was going to do that."
With the arrival of Director of Athletics Rick Hart in 2006, game day became more organized, Askew says. Hart even brought in a game director from the Atlanta Hawks pro team to show them how to write a game-day script. Now every moment of every Mocs game is scripted -- except who wins or loses, obviously -- from the time the game clock starts ticking at 6 p.m. until the band plays the alma mater to close out the night..
Wilcox writes the script with input from Mike Royster, UTC assistant athletic director of athletic facilities and equipment. Once completed, copies are given to the band director, video board crew, Askew and officials with Mocs Sports Properties, which handles sponsorships and ad inventory for the arena's public announcements. Game administrators Royster and Laura Herron, game-day coordinator for women, also receive copies. Royster and Herron will distribute more copies of the script to security personnel, referees, scorekeepers, game clock operators and any other staff they feel need one.
"About a half-hour before the game, they start PA announcements. If timeout is called by a coach, the band always plays. If it's a media timeout, there is a scripted PA read such as check presentations or other recognition," explains Askew.
Matthew Smith, assistant director of bands, says everyone involved wears a headset, but there still has been an occasional miscue. At home games, Smith, Schafer and Marcus Harris alternate as directors of the 36-member pep band and "when coach's timeouts come up, it's hit or miss," Smith says.
"We have things ready to call -- for example, if 20 seconds is left in a close game, we'll play something to get the crowd interactive. If it's a blowout, we might play something more entertainment-wise. It all depends on what's happening in the game," says Smith.
Most music timeouts are scripted so cheerleaders and Sugar Mocs dancers know what song is coming up and can be prepared, he adds.
"It's the band, the students and incorporating the video, every one of those facets plays a big part in the game atmosphere. It's the complete package," says Wilcox.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...