A Shocker flag will be flying in Sapulpa, Okla., on Saturday when Wichita State’s men’s basketball team tips off against Detroit in a BracketBuster game in Wichita.
Longtime Shocker fan Ron Kroening, who works for the Oklahoma Health Department in Sapulpa, dangerously close to enemy territory in Tulsa, says he flies it during every daytime Shocker game on the weekends.
“I’ll leave it up a day if it’s an exciting game,” he said. “My wife may roll her eyes, but I’ve never had a comment about it.”
It is a lonely, brave existence for a Shocker fan.
Kroening grew up in Derby. His parents, originally from Nebraska, got him and a brother season tickets to Shocker games, so he grew up a Shocker fan. He graduated from WSU in 1989, the year the Shocker baseball team won the College World Series.
He has lived in Oklahoma for 21 years. His wife, Nancy Tooney from Chanute, is a Pittsburg State grad. But his 14-year old son, Jett, is turning into a Shocker fan, and Kroening said he has managed to recruit a University of Oklahoma fan to root for the Shockers.
Otherwise, he said, “We’re kind of on our own here.”
Shocker fans are far and near, according to responses to an Eagle questionnaire through the Public Insight Network. Today, they will be tuned into the BracketBuster game, which will air on ESPN2 at 3 p.m.
The game is part of a two-day event designed to pit high-level, mid-major teams with NCAA Tournament potential against each other to give them a quality late-season opponent and more exposure.
A Shocker fan in Texas will be watching, and he knows just how important any big Shocker basketball game is to Wichita.
“The Shockers are not a game, they’re a culture,’ said Al Spector, who lives in Wimberley, Texas, near Austin. “This is the fiber of the community, people like me that bleed black and gold and have for 10, 20, 30 years and more. This is bigger than a team playing the game.”
Spector has been a fan since 1970, when he was a student and got to know WSU basketball players. He became close to late Shocker coach Harry Miller and Miller’s family. He attended Shocker practices and was like an unofficial mascot, he said. He continues to follow the Shockers closely and talks basketball constantly with “anybody who will listen,” he said.
Although Spector lives in Texas, where he works for a tech company, the Shockers never are far from his thoughts.
“They are my hobby,” he said.
His lifelong dream was to coach the Shockers. Instead, he coaches his fourth-grade daughter’s team, which he named the Shockers.
Spector said Shocker basketball crowds are filled with older adults who have been attending games for decades, and not as many students as you see at other college games. That’s why WSU is the fiber of the Wichita community, Spector said.
“This is a way of life. This isn’t a bunch of kids passing through,” he said.
In sickness and in health
Many Shocker devotees are like Connie Foster, a fan of 43 years since her student days at WSU. Foster is a fan in sickness and in health. A special education teacher at Levy Special Education Center in Wichita, Foster suffered what she thought was a “fan-ending” injury in December last year when she fell and broke her pelvis on a school field trip and had to use a wheelchair for three months.
The first thing she said to her doctor was, “Oh my gosh, I don’t get to go to any more games.”
But her friend Jeri Bellinger, another Shocker fan, traded in Foster’s season tickets for handicapped seating at Koch Arena and pushed Foster to most of the rest of the games.
“It was real hard on me, so getting to go to games was a real plus,” Foster said.
Her students at Levy threw a Shocker birthday party for her at school last month.
The Shocker wall
Another WSU grad, Jill Skaggs, has been a fan for 30 years. She took some of her homemade chocolate chip cookies to the team last year to thank it for its contribution to the community, and received a thank-you letter signed by all the players and coaches.
“I had no idea they’d send such a nice letter back,” she said.
She made them cookies again this week.
Saturday is Skaggs’ fifth wedding anniversary, and she will be at the game with her husband, Jeff.
Not all Shocker fans have a direct connection to the school. David Klingenberg, a construction worker in Wichita, said he became a big Shocker fan when WSU beat Kansas in the 1981 NCAA Tournament. He doesn’t get to games much, but he always watches and listens to the Shockers on TV and radio, sticking with them to the final buzzer, win or lose.
When the Shockers lose, he said, he has been known to wear a black ribbon on his shirt.
For the last 18 years, Klingenberg has devoted an entire wall in his basement to the Shockers, filling it with memorabilia such as a WuShock doll, Shocker flags, pom-poms and photos. He adds to the wall every year.
“It’s sacred. No one touches the Shocker wall,” he said.
On game days, Klingenberg wears a Shocker shirt and drinks coffee from a Shocker mug.
He uses different mugs for different games, and he makes sure not to drink from the wrong one.
“Seems like every time I do, it’s bad luck,” he said.
“Win or lose,” Klingenberg said, “we love watching the Shockers. We’ll stick with them no matter what.”