'Jungle' creative in membership drive

Thursday, January 31, 2013

You know teenagers really want something when they start offering up money out of their own pockets to get it.

So it caught my eye when the leaders of the Central Jungle, the student cheering section for athletic events, started offering a cash prize for bringing underclassmen to Tuesday night's game against Notre Dame via its Twitter account.

It was a last-minute idea thought up by a couple juniors, and no one ended up trying to claim the $25 that was offered up for bringing at least five underclassmen to the game.

But it's a good glimpse into what life is like for the Jungle leaders, and just how much effort they put into trying to fill the stands.

Central senior Tyler Anderson is the King of the Jungle this year.

"King" is a title passed down year after year, typically from whatever senior boy holds it one year to a boy who will be a senior the next year. As far as Anderson knows, there's never been a Queen of the Jungle.

(Obviously, Anderson's memory doesn't stretch too far back, but I hope girls who are attending Central -- or will in the future -- take that as a challenge.)

Anyway, Anderson got the title from Sam Stahly last year and is doing all he can with the help of four other leaders to put people in the stands at each game.

"I actually send out about 145 texts every game just to try to get people to go," Anderson said Tuesday night. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."

He and the other leaders also reach out to other students using their Twitter account @CTJungle and a Facebook page. They ask if anyone needs a ride and arrange to pick up those who do or designate a meeting place.

Anderson said the crowds were "off and on" at the beginning of the year, but there has been progress of late.

"It's not what it used to be, but I think that the crowds this year are getting better than they were last year," he said.

His passion for his job is obvious, and it would be even if he weren't wearing an oversized dress coat with the sleeves ripped off and "Go CT" painted on the back.

Tuesday night he and the rest of the Jungle filled up about half of their designated section at the Show Me Center, but they found themselves up against a Notre Dame student crowd at least twice as big as their own.

The numbers were closer to even when the teams met earlier in the season at the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament, but Anderson said he wasn't surprised to find a bigger group across the court. He didn't seem discouraged or disappointed by it.

I think he knew his group would be able to hold its own during the game -- which it did, at least during the boys' contest. The Notre Dame section dominated the girls' game simply by showing up for it. I think it's also because his focus is on his own team, which it should be.

"I hope it gets better every year," Anderson said. "I feel like it goes down a little every year. We're hoping that it's on the rise now."

Anderson has a goal in mind. He can see it every day at school in a photo from not all that long ago that hangs by the front office.

"There's a huge picture from a game, and it's just like that," Anderson said, motioning across the Show Me Center. "Like what Notre Dame's like right now. It's just, like, everyone just packed in even closer, and it's just filled with people, and you have people standing in the aisles and stuff. ... Everyone's dressed up with face paint and everything, and we're hoping that one day it gets back to where it was."

I hope so, too, although you couldn't ask for a more enthusiastic crowd than either school brought Tuesday night. High school sports are more fun when students in the stands are as much a part of the game as those on the court.

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