BY ANDY REID
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 6, 2007
If by some strange circumstance you find yourself at a Michigan women's basketball game, you might measure the atmosphere in Crisler Arena by what's missing, not by what's there.
Absent are the elements that make many Michigan sporting events so fun to attend: an animated student section (clear even at water polo), subdued alumni to poke fun at, the dance team - replaced by the elementary school-aged dance group Blaize - and ultimately, a steadily successful program to cheer on.
In fact, upon walking into Crisler, you might mistakenly think you have the wrong address based on the lack of fans in the arena.
However staggering the lack of a crowd may be, there will always be, at every game, one man whose passion for the school and its sports teams rivals any fan of any team in the nation.
Every game, sometimes more than an hour and a half before tipoff, Chuck Raab, a special needs teacher form a local middle school, arrives to his courtside seat. He routinely takes three seats - one for himself and two used to carefully place his various signs around him, creating a veritable shrine to the Wolverines.
"On Your Feet!" one of his many signs states, urging other fans to display just some of the excitement that he has for the team.
Never without his trusty megaphone and terrible towel-like cloth that reads "Go Blue, Wear Maize," Raab embodies everything a Michigan fan ought to be: enthusiastic, supportive and positive.
He even travels to about half of the away games, often making a stop at the team bus to wish the Wolverines luck before they board it.
His love for the Wolverines extends past the game, as well.
"He's a great guy and a people person," senior Kelly Helvey said. "He loves my family, and he and my dad are pretty close. I get made fun of all the time (for their friendship). My teammates call him my uncle and stuff like that."
Last month against Michigan State, Raab's T-shirt perfectly summed up his importance to the Wolverines. The shirt read, "Michigan's Sixth Person: Secret Weapon."
Born, raised and now living in Ann Arbor, the lifetime Michigan fan dedicated himself to Wolverine sports early on.
"When I was a kid growing up I always attended all the football games and hockey games," Raab said. "Michigan just kind of grew on me, and I have loved Michigan ever since."
That love for some of the school's most popular sports soon blossomed into a fanatic following of all things Michigan. Raab's enthusiasm for Michigan sports wasn't diminished when he attended Western Michigan for his college career, the longest stint he has spent away from Ann Arbor.
Citing just some of the sporting events he enjoys going to, volleyball, softball, gymnastics, hockey, football and both basketball teams are Raab's favorites.
Raab still likes to cheer on the more popular sports, but he focuses on those with fewer fans in attendance, especially women's sports, where his avid presence can be felt the most.
But women's basketball is and always will be his No. 1 sport.
"When (Michigan coach Cheryl) Burnett came in 2003, I was attracted to her program and what she brought with her from Southwest Missouri State," Raab said. "I've started to follow the women's program very closely since then.
"(Burnett's) passion for the sport and for Michigan has kept me going full tilt even though we've had a few lean years recently. .The passion that I have is directly related to the coaching staff that is here now."
With a nickname like "Go Blue Chuck," he has to be a diehard Michigan fan. And while Raab does enjoy watching his favorite team take the floor, he ultimately wants to complete a mission through his attendance.
That mission is simply to have fun and show everyone else how enjoyable the Wolverines' games can be.
Through the years, the women's basketball team has struggled to bring in fans. While teams like Michigan State and Penn State have successfully sold out their arenas as the women's game gains popularity, Crisler continues to be sparsely populated on game nights.
If just some of his enthusiasm somehow rubs off on other fans at the game, Raab's mission is completed.
"The thing I would like to see most is more fan support and for people to just get loud and rowdy and crazy during the games," Raab said. "That would be super."
Raab, a member of the team's Victory Hoops Club, supports rowdiness and craziness in Crisler. His signs and chants, though, will never be directed negatively at the opposing squad. Good sportsmanship is important to Raab, and he believes it should be to all Michigan fans.
"I don't really think you need to have any negativity toward your opponent," Raab said. "Just support your team and concentrate on your team and everything will take care of itself."
All of his efforts haven't gone unnoticed by Michigan players and coaches.
Last year, Raab received the title of honorary coach for Michigan's game against Minnesota. For one day, Raab experienced what it was like to be a part of the team that he cheers so hard for.
The honor included eating a pre-game meal with the team, sitting in the locker room for pregame and halftime speeches and having a special spot on the team bench for the game.
Even though the Wolverines have an honorary coach each game, the recipient is usually a University faculty member. But who better than their ultimate fan to fill such a spot?
"It was really something special," Raab said. "I'd love to do it again someday, but it's an opportunity that only comes around once in a great while. I was just really happy to do it."
Burnett is appreciative of what Raab has done for the program as well.
"I'm really just thankful for him every game," Burnett said. "He's the nicest guy off the court. He's very interesting to talk to and a great family man. But when the ball goes up, he's a crazy, energetic guy."
So the next time you find yourself, even if it's by accident, in Crisler for a women's basketball game, you will undoubtedly hear Go Blue Chuck's famous celebratory battle cry echoed through the arena: "Hiiiiiiii-Ohhhhhhh!"