Take a look around at the teams that make up this year’s Final Four: Illinois, Michigan State, Louisville and North Carolina.
Now look at the armies that back them in the heat of battle: the Orange Krush, the Izzone, the L-Raisers and a rowdy group of students that make the “Dean Dome” one of the toughest places to play in college basketball.
The common thread that ties all these sections together is the successful era they rose out of. The Orange Krush and the Izzone have been the most notable student bodies in Big Ten basketball since Illinois and Michigan State became the most notable teams, while student sections at North Carolina and Louisville have each ridden the popular waves of a coach — one who has already retired (Dean Smith) and one who just arrived (Rick Pitino).
And it is this fact that makes Michigan’s Maize Rage stand out from all the others. While some organizations needed success to grow, the Maize Rage grew from the ashes of the Ellerbe era, perhaps the darkest chapter in Michigan basketball history.
Maize Rage lore — or word of mouth — pinpoints the beginning of the Maize Rage on Jeff Holzhausen, better known as Superfan I. With the help of Tom Brooks, Michigan’s director of sports marketing, one passionate fan helped start the organization during the 2000-01 season.
Now, with little help from a subpar basketball team, the group has grown to 1,600 or so ticket holders this past season. It is now directed by the newly anointed Superfan VI, LSA junior Griffin Hickman, and a “core” of roughly 40 students that handle the administrative responsibilities.
“People have seen what we have been able to do in the past, even with the lack of success on the season,” Hickman said. “It’s not that much of a commitment. It’s enough that you’re involved in something and you really feel like you’re helping the basketball team.”
The growth of the Maize Rage on campus has been as much of a success story over the past four years as any varsity team’s tale. The first few years of meetings amounted to not much more than a dozen guys (and maybe a girl) sitting around talking hoops — just like any old house with a bunch of guys (plus that one girl) might do.
“Freshmen kind of came, and you might throw in a comment every now and then, but you really didn’t feel like you were there for a reason,” Maize Rage president Dave Stuart Jr. said.
Yes, that’s right. The Maize Rage has a president. The core members elected the Education junior to shoulder the responsibility of an administrative head, something that was becoming increasingly difficult for the Superfan in the growing organization.
“You could say (I have the easier job),” Hickman said. “But I think I’m going to keep my foot in the door and keep my hand in the mix of the administrative stuff.”
Give the guy a break He’s Superfan, not Superman.
The Maize Rage hasn’t just branched out in hierarchy, either. In fact, some of the biggest steps that the Maize Rage has taken have been away from the court.
A year ago, the Rage put out a call to local high schools, offering its services. Homer High School responded, and soon the Maize Rage was spreading its influence across the state. It spoke to student leaders and assisted at a pep rally at Homer High School, teaching the students how to stay behind their team while keeping the cheers clean.
“The game they played that night after our pep rally, they went on a 20-0 run to start the game,” Stuart said.
The positive feedback sparked Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, and it is currently working with the Maize Rage to improve its student section.
Now, with a positive reputation outside the University, the Maize Rage is hoping to turn its sights back on its own territory. A new outreach committee has been formed to improve the Maize Rage’s visibility on campus.
“There are a lot of people who still don’t know what the Maize Rage is,” Hickman. “They’ll call us the Maize Craze or just a bunch of people in yellow shirts. We really want to make the Maize Rage something that is out there.”
With the man power available, Stuart and Hickman hope that the Maize Rage is in a position to become a constant fixture on campus. Whether it comes through volunteering in University activities or showing up at sporting events as random as water polo, the Maize Rage hopes it can make its presence felt.
And that includes priority No. 1 of course — the Michigan basketball team.
“I really think a lot of people are looking forward to next year,” Hickman said. “Maybe not the year, but it will be better than 04-05.”
If that kind of optimism has gotten the Maize Rage this far, I’m ready to believe.
Josh Holman wonders what Michigan’s record over the past four years would have been without the Maize Rage. He can be reached at email@example.com.