As the University of Michigan football season comes to an end, students begin to worry about where to keep their school spirit — leaving behind boxes of maize and blue apparel and enthusiasm. In the wake of last weekend’s final football game of the regular season, mourning is permitted, but only until our next hockey game.
If you frequent the hockey games, you know the student section’s unique dance moves, unparalleled volume and timely cheers. The Michigan Daily spoke with John Bartman and “Tall Tom,” two of the rowdy juniors that lead cheers for the arena.
“Hockey is the best-kept secret at the University of Michigan,” Tall Tom said, as he stands a staggering 6 feet 9 inches above the crowd.
His accomplice, Bartman, strategically sits at the other end of the front row, and plays cowbell as the infamous metronome for the stadium’s cheers.
When the puck drops, we stand shoulder to shoulder, happily chanting, “The Victors.” When Bartman and Tom see fit, we unanimously begin yelling at the other goalie, with criticisms such as “It’s all your fault,” “You suck” or “Ugly goalie.” Others tend to join in along the way, resulting in an echo of inventive insults. Further, Tall Tom writes his own novel cheers on a whiteboard.
“They’re very in the moment, they’re clever,” Tom said.
When Michigan Men’s Hockey played against the University of Vermont Catamounts last season, we came back to win 3-2 after fighting against a steady 2-1 head start. Tom spent the days before the game studying up on Catamount facts. In light of the announcement that Vermont is finally opening their first Target, the sign read: “You may have lost a 2-1 lead, but at least you’re getting a Target.”
Other slights include photoshopping the opposing team’s coach into demeaning photographs, making claims about the team’s local bars and taking their opponents’ pictures off of dating apps, calling the photos “cute.” In the moment, clever and insulting. That’s the Michigan school spirit.
Throughout the Nov. 9 game against Notre Dame, Tom’s sign asked the Yost staff to play songs in high demand among students.
“We know the people that run the scoreboard and the audio,” Bartman said. “At the end of the year, we talk about what we can do better, what they want us to improve on and what went well.” By working with Yost, the students are able to create an environment comprised of cowbells, loud voices and passion, and one that draws in fans of all ages.
There’s something about the band’s placement adjacent to the student section that amplifies the excitement of both parties. Since the director of the band stands towards the bleachers, he can conduct the official band members while keeping an eye on John and his cowbell. This maintains great communication between the fans and the music, according to Bartman.
“We can’t override them — we kind of play off each other,” he said, alluding to the collaborative rendition of the “SpongeBob SquarePants” theme song sung the night before.
The teamwork between the band and the students is arguably the most integral part of the game, harnessing the passion that distinguishes Michigan spirit from other schools.
What will happen when these two graduate in 2020?
“I think it’s understood that once we leave, someone will fill our void, because that’s what we did,” Tom said as he reminisced on his freshman year.
Bartman agreed, adding that his energy and enthusiasm is what ultimately recruited him to play the cowbell. Though the crew discusses passing down the torch as an “organic” process and rejects the idea of a hierarchy, they have their eye on a number of younger students to fill their void.
“It’s free-flowing,” Bartman claimed. “We consider ourselves the children of Yost. We’ve all kind of taken that role.”
Michigan spirit never dies, but instead, hibernates. John Bartman and Tall Tom proclaimed themselves as the team’s “mascots,” with no incentive except school spirit. The hockey games have the talent on the ice and passion in the stands, but seem to lack the numbers seen at the Big House for football games. The next home game is against Michigan State on Dec. 1 at 7:00 p.m.
Julia Montag can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.