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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fans back in the stands: students return to Hagan Arena

Obinna prepares to shoot a free throw in front of 54th and Airborne. PHOTO: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

As the game clock drew closer to zero, the tension on the court radiated into the crowd. Perched on the bleachers closest to Mandeville Hall, the red-and-white clad student section took to their feet. Each whistle against the Hawks was met with a louder collective groan from students than the last. 

The St. Joe’s men’s basketball team was entrenched in a battle with the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. When redshirt senior forward Taylor Funk scored a three pointer to give St. Joe’s the lead with seconds left, the student section, also called 54th and Airborne, turned from a state of anxiety to ecstasy. 

The game’s dramatic victory revealed something that was missing from sporting events for the last twenty months: the wild roar of a crowd.  

“The emotions of a fan is something that I did not anticipate,” men’s basketball Head Coach Billy Lange said of the game. “You want to appreciate it.”

The men’s and women’s basketball games in Hagan Arena last week were the first with fans since March 2020. For players like sophomore guard/forward Jordan Hall, it was their first collegiate experience playing in front of a crowd. 

According to Hall, he hadn’t played in front of as many fans since a game at The Palestra, the University of Pennsylvania’s basketball arena, during his senior year of high school.

“It was definitely fun,” Hall said. “I’ve never played for a school that has the student section come out like that.”

Students get free tickets to all non-conference home games.

The loudest fan liaisons of the emotion and energy at Hagan Arena are the students that comprise 54th and Airborne. According to women’s basketball Head Coach Cindy Griffin, their renewed presence at Hagan Arena this season is important. 

“You can see the buzz around it,” Griffin said. “For our player’s sake, just to play in front of their peers and know that their peers have their back is awesome.” 

This season, 54th and Airborne is led by Jared Farley ’22 and Jay Wilmer ’22. Farley said the leaders face a unique challenge in that the current sophomores didn’t get to attend basketball games last year.

“We basically have two first-year classes,” Farley said. “They haven’t really learned some of the classic chants yet, so hopefully they’ll catch on quickly.”

Caroline Curtin ’25 said she is learning the traditions and chants of 54th and Airborne quickly.

“It’s pretty easy, especially when you repeat them multiple times,” Curtin said.

According to Curtin, first-year students are excited to go to the games. 

“We’ve been talking about the games a decent amount,” Curtin said. “People definitely want to go to games, and to be back in Hagan [Arena]. We are really excited.”

Farley and Wilmer hope that the return of 54th and Airborne will reintroduce a home court advantage at Hagan Arena. With a little over eight minutes remaining in Saturday’s game, Mount St. Mary’s University’s junior Jalen Benjamin appeared to exchange words with the student section, which resulted in a technical foul being called on the Mountaineer guard.

“I think we played a part in that,” Wilmer said. “We can get under the skin of the opponent.”


Redshirt senior forward Taylor Funk goes for the block against a Maryland-Eastern Shore player.

Just minutes before St. Joe’s tipped off against Mount St. Mary’s on Nov. 13, Lange made his way across the hardwood and stood before 54th and Airborne. The third-year coach proceeded to throw his hands in the air and yell ‘Let’s go,’ which was met with a rousing roar from the students. 

After the game, Lange walked back towards the student section and waved. While having the energy back in Hagan Arena requires an adjustment, it is one that Lange welcomes. 

“There’s so many things for the students to be able to do on a Saturday afternoon in 2021, so to have that portion of our crowd, it means everything to our program,” Lange said after the game. “Our student body is ‘The Hawk Will Never Die.’”


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