Playing for the fans

With unparalleled attendance and interest, football is the king of high school athletics.

But when the players are on the field, the loudest crowd in the state doesn't make any difference.

"You can't hear anything," said Andrus Peat, who plays football and basketball at Corona del Sol.

While professional and college sports get big boosts from home crowds, home court advantage at the high school level is minimal. The biggest benefit of a home game, in most cases, is the lack of travel.

However, boys basketball is the one sport that bucks that trend.

While the fan support in the East Valley doesn't match some of the raucous crowds in the Midwest, it can still play a crucial role during games. Players feed off the energy of their home crowd and try to ignore the insults on the road.

"As coaches, it's something you have to discuss with your kids," Perry coach Mark Nold said. "We don't spend a ton of time on it, but you have to be mindful of it. Some of these student crowds are pretty creative with the nicknames."

The crowds are generally the biggest and loudest in rivalry games and the state tournaments. In past years, the higher seed played at home for the first two rounds of the postseason before the games moved to the bigger arenas for the semifinals and championship matchups.

In many quarterfinal matchups, when only eight teams remain, the gyms sell out and the crowd is intense from opening tip to final buzzer.

Corona del Sol shooting guard Calaen Robinson vividly remembers the atmosphere when the Aztecs traveled to face Mountain View in last year's state quarterfinals.

"It was packed, hot, they had the band playing," he said. "The Mountain View crowd had everything for us. They knew who we were, where we're from, our mama's names, everything."

Robinson enjoys playing in front of big crowds, but generally tries to ignore their antics. If he finds something particularly amusing, he will respond with a quick sign of respect.

"If the crowd gets into my head, I'll look at them and give them a little smile," he said.

At home, there's nothing better than whipping the fans into a frenzy. As the momentum shifts, it makes the opposing team nervous and gives the home team that extra boost of energy.

"Those people are there for you," Horizon Honors coach Ernest Shand said. "Give them something to go crazy about."

On the road, silence is king. Nothing quiets a crowd faster than a crucial basket or a scoring run.

"I use it to my advantage a little bit, as motivation," Gilbert guard Cody Martin said. "I enjoy it."

A crowd's venom is no more direct than when a player steps up to the free throw line. The flow of the game has stopped, and the fans know exactly when to get loudest. Robinson tries to tune out the verbal assault, but sometimes he can't.

"When I'm at the line, I can hear everything," he said. "If I miss one, that's when you know the crowd got to me."

Unbalanced schedules have some local coaches worried about how the power point rankings will play out.

Two of the top teams in Division I, Mountain View and Pinnacle, are currently outside the top-8, which means they would have to play on the road in the second round of the postseason.

While the Toros and Pioneers are talented enough to win away from home, dealing with surly crowds always adds an element of unknown.

"We're dealing with high school kids and you tell them to keep it in between the lines, but they still might hear them," Nold said. "They just need to know how to handle it."

Star players usually get the bulk of the crowd's attention, and it's human nature to respond, either by words or action.

Sometimes it makes the player more focused and leads to a big game. Other times they try to do too much and it backfires when it takes away from the team concept.

But either way, there's no questioning it makes the games more fun.

"If it gets intense and they're chanting ‘overrated' or something, then I've got to show them I'm not overrated," Robinson said. "If it wasn't for the crowd, it would be boring. I like to give them something to watch."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6834 or

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.