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Bulldogs' cheering section puts in championship effort
COLUMBIA -- What do peanut butter and jelly, bananas, roller coasters, and nursery rhymes have to do with a basketball game? Generally speaking, not much.
But if you're a member of the "Dawg Pound," the Notre Dame student cheering section, and you're cheering for your team in the state championship game, they mean everything.
They are tradition. They are sportsmanship, and they are a whole lot of fun.
That's why the more than 250 students -- or a little more than half of the school's student body -- spent Saturday at Mizzou Arena giving nonsense commands like, "Peel banana, peel, peel, banana," or singing songs like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and yelling other equally absurd yet harmless forms of encouragement mixed in with the cheers for defense and scoring one expects to hear.
"Our fans our crazy," said Notre Dame principal Brother David Migliorino. "They're crazy people. They never give up. They cheer whether we're ahead by 50 points or down by 50 points. They cheer their hearts out. And everybody's in it, the seniors to the freshmen. I think they're the reason the team does so well."
Two of the Dawg Pound's leaders this year, seniors J.P. Thompson and Richard Marquart, said the responsibility of guiding the group is passed on each season.
Although they have "no clue" why the cheers are done or even how exactly they help the team, they do think they serve a purpose.
Said Thompson: "We think it does because when [the players] start to get on a run, we keep motivating them and motivating them to keep going on."
Notre Dame junior Katie Karnes agreed. "Crowd support is definitely a big thing," she said. "It shows them that they're not just doing it for themselves, they're doing it for the whole school."
That sense of togetherness is why many Notre Dame supporters believe their teams, and specifically this year's basketball squad, has succeeded. The basketball team's final four run followed a state championship in the fall for the boys soccer team, a top-four finish for the boys cross country team and district titles for the volleyball, softball and girls basketball teams.
"They're pumped up because of the support and they know we're behind them, and they don't want to let us down," said Toni Arnold, a Notre Dame grad whose mother attended the school and whose children now attend. "They know the whole town is really behind them."
Arnold was one of hundreds of family members and friends supporting Notre Dame that filled one side of Mizzou Arena, appearing to be at the least four times the size of Ruskin's non-student cheering section.
The size difference was so obvious that Thompson, Marquart and company started chanting, "We've got more fans!" from the student section.
Jeff Worley, the dean of students at Notre Dame, said expectations and accountability are another benefit of a close-knit student body and community.
"We have high expectations. A lot of our success is just that we expect to do well," he said. "We're very committed to that, not just in athletics but in the classroom. It's part of the whole deal ... the work that goes into it not just by the players but the students as well."
Part of the school's expectations is for both players and fans to maintain good sportsmanship, a characteristic that was exemplified on Saturday just seconds after a game-tying 3-point shot failed to fall for the Bulldogs.
There was no booing, no jeering and no crying among the students. Only silence for a few moments before they remembered their charge and began to cheer, "We are ND ... we are ND."
"That really is the blessing," Migliorino said after the loss. "In victory we're happy. In defeat we're sad, but in reality we're happy because we got this far, and we'll be back. No question."