The Times West Virginian

January 31, 2013

‘Unbelievable atmosphere’ should await Falcons tonight

Times West Virginian

— When Jerrod Calhoun moved from West Virginia University to become Fairmont State University’s men’s basketball coach last year, he knew about the tradition of the proud program.

Joe Retton compiled a 478-95 record at the school before retiring as coach in 1982. He still lives less than a mile from campus and is no stranger to the program.

Retton’s exciting teams, before sports programming was available on television 24 hours a day, played to overflow crowds during the 1960s and 1970s at the old Colebank Gymnasium on campus and the armory. The atmosphere was electric.

Even before the 2012-13 season got under way, Calhoun anticipated building a strong, exciting team and having it play before large, enthusiastic crowds at the Joe Retton Arena in the Feaster Center. He, his staff and players made a strong presence in the community.

“I think it would mean we did an unbelievable job of bringing in good players, because I think any time you’ve got good players, people want to come watch them,” Calhoun said. “I think what Coach Retton did, he put such a good product out there that played so hard people came.”

He said that “we’ve got to win” to get fans truly involved in Falcon basketball.

FSU, despite playing only six home games so far, has indeed done its share of winning. The Falcons are 13-4 overall and 11-2 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, trailing only West Liberty, currently No. 3 in the nation in NCAA Division II, in the WVIAC standings.

Crowds have built as the season has progressed. Tonight, with the University of Charleston coming to town for a double-header starting with the women’s game at 5:30 p.m., FSU officials are hoping fans take things to another level.

FSU is hoping to fill Joe Retton Arena and become the first school in the WVIAC this season to draw more than 3,000 fans.

“We’re trying to have just an unbelievable atmosphere,” Calhoun said.

There are incentives on top of good basketball.

The game is being promoted as a “white out” with fans encouraged to wear white to the gymnasium. Free white T-shirts will be passed out to the first 1,500 fans. Students will also be treated to free pizza courtesy of Papa John’s starting at 6 p.m., and after the men’s game the Marshall Lowery Band will perform live.

“It’s a neat look,” Calhoun said of the “white out.”

“Penn State kind of started it, and we wanted to do it. Being a big game, I think it will create more excitement.”

“We truly want to create a home-court advantage for our players,” FSU athletic director Rusty Elliott said. “Both games should be very competitive, and we think it’s a great night to come out and experience Fairmont State basketball.”

Charleston’s men are 13-4 overall in fourth place in the conference with a 9-4 record after a 69-59 win at third-place Alderson-Broaddus on Monday to halt a two-game losing streak. Charleston is the lone team to defeat West Liberty, which was ranked No. 1 in the country at the time.

Fairmont State’s women are also in the running for the WVIAC championship. The Lady Falcons are 12-6 overall and 10-3 and in second place in conference play. Charleston is 10-7 in all games and 7-6 in the league.

We’d enjoy seeing the Falcons — both men and women — get the backing they deserve from their fellow students and townspeople during their championship drive over the coming weeks.

A great kick start will be a capacity crowd on campus tonight.

“Our crowds have been very good — they’re the best in the West Virginia Conference — and hopefully they just continue to get better down the stretch as we try to win a league championship,” Calhoun said. “It will create a great atmosphere and a great night. Hopefully people enjoy it and they come back.”