As the “Home Alone” hero Kevin McCallister said: “This is my house. I have to defend it.” So goes the spirit of Cassell Guard, the student section at Virginia Tech basketball games.
As exemplified in last season’s sold-out Maroon Out game, the Cassell Guard can have a measurable effect on what happens on the court. During this home game in February, the men’s basketball team beat top 10 UVA. The student section was packed and electric, filling the Coliseum with an energy that helped motivate the team as it fought back from 14-points-down at the half to a double overtime victory.
Student representation at basketball games has been a tradition in Blacksburg for decades. Traditionally, students took a medieval castle theme, wearing Burger King crowns to games.
Cassell Guard as we know it began in 2009 when the Student Government Association launched a program to revamp the game-day spirit. This program included selecting 15 “Generals” of the Cassell Guard, students who would sit in the front row and lead the section in chants. These Guards were given free front row tickets that came with a strict attendance policy and responsibility to uphold Hokie Respect.
Today, the Guards are known as the Cassell Guard Executive Board. The board functions as a student organization, with students in leadership positions, a GobblerConnect page and representation at GobblerFest. They run promotional social media pages that post up-to-date information on women’s and men’s basketball in an effort to get students involved.
At an early-season men’s game against University of Maryland Eastern Shore on Dec. 10, the executive board led a holiday theme that they had promoted over social media. Dawning their ugly holiday sweaters, tinsel and Santa hats, the members brought an extra ray of spirit to the game, which the Hokies won 93–40.
The students on the executive board participate in many other organizations at Virginia Tech, including Greek life and Relay for Life, and many also hold jobs. However, they dedicate a significant amount of time to basketball. According to board member Zahid Khan, the time commitment can be substantial, since they are expected to attend every men’s game and at least 50 percent of women’s games, but is worth it. Khan, a junior, serves as the director of Women’s Basketball Promotions.
“I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I’ve watched Virginia Tech basketball ever since I was a kid, and I saw those crazy fans in the front row and I’m like, ‘That’s gotta be me,’” Khan said. When the applications went out in the spring, he took action and was eventually selected for the promotions position.
When asked what five things every student should do at a basketball game before graduating, here is what Khan suggested:
Storming the court after a big upset win is the number one thing every Hokie should do.
Hold a Fathead during a game. These fatheads are passed out by the guards before each game, so you should get there at least 30 minutes early go snatch one up. Many of them feature the players’ faces, but others are more comical like the horse on the treadmill and Ron Burgundy.
Make it on the jumbotron during a game. You’re more likely to get on the screen if you remain standing during timeouts and dance whenever you get the opportunity.
Be a part of a funny chant. For example, during some of the other team’s penalty shots, the executive board leads the “Ring of Fire” chant. This is mimicked after the scene from “Finding Nemo” where the fish chant rhythmically, growing in volume, which continues until the shot is made or (preferably) missed.
“Go all out in being a part of Cassell Guard,” he concluded. “Be as loud as you can. Deck out in Hokie gear. Wear face paint.”
Being a part of Cassell Guard is not just joining the executive board, it is simply the act of going out to a basketball game and helping to defend our castle. Students can get tickets to most games by entering the lottery; winners are awarded free tickets. Otherwise, men’s tickets are $20, and women’s are free.