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Wichita State fans in Salt Lake are few but strong

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at 7:43 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, August 25, 2013, at 9:02 a.m.

Photos

Wichita St. vs. Pittsburgh

When: 12:40 p.m. Thursday

Where: EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City

Records: WSU 26-8, Pitt 24-8

Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM

TV: TBS

— The Shocker fans who traveled to Salt Lake City to support the team are among its most dedicated – and determined.

Timing, distance and expense made it difficult for many fans to follow the team to the NCAA Tournament this year, especially after two groups planning charter flights canceled them because they couldn’t fill enough seats.

WSU organizers say a crowd of 200 fans for the Shockers’ opening game against Pittsburgh here on Thursday might be optimistic. But those who did make the trip – some in dramatic fashion – said on Wednesday that they would cheer loud enough to make up for the deficit.

“I’ve done this forever,” said Wichita Shocker fan Dick Dameron, among the many who made the 14-hour, 1,025-mile drive from Wichita to Salt Lake City for the game. “You can’t miss this. These are memories to look back on.”

Two groups organized planes that would take fans from Wichita to Salt Lake City, but neither flight took off.

The Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission had a charter jet that would seat 142 people, said Bob Hanson, the commission’s president. He needed at least 107 to make it work, he said, but only 75 people signed up to take the $950-a-person trip.

That number includes the people who signed up to take a 172-seat plane chartered by the WSU Alumni Association. When neither group could get enough travelers to meet their quotas, they combined their lists and still only came up with 75.

Hanson said the early game time on Thursday – WSU is scheduled to tip off at 12:40 p.m. – might have been part of the problem. People who can’t miss much work would have needed to leave Wichita on Wednesday to make the game.

“Last year, we had a list of people waiting to go,” he said when the Shockers traveled to Portland, Ore., for their first tournament trip since 2006.

At a Shocker fan gathering Wednesday night at the team hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, about 60 black-and-gold wearing people gathered to sip wine and swap stories about how they found their way to Utah.

At the gathering, Coach Gregg Marshall thanked the fans for their loyalty.

“I appreciate those of you who have made it out,” he said. “I know it was difficult.”

Several of the fans who wanted take the canceled charter flights decided to make the long drive instead.

Dameron and his friend, John Markwell – who hasn’t missed a Shocker game in three years – departed Wichita very early Wednesday morning. They drove all night, taking turns sleeping, and arrived in Salt Lake City midafternoon Wednesday.

The two had been signed up for the charter flight, and when it fell through, plane tickets were rare and expensive. They spent $150 in gas on the way, Dameron said.

“I graduated WSU a long time ago, and I’ve gone to all these games, so I was disappointed when the flight got canceled,” he said. “I really wanted to go, and the only alternative was driving.”

A few fans who traveled by air on their own found that tickets from Wichita to Salt Lake City cost $1,000 or more. Chris Dennis said he and his 18-year-old son, Jake, used frequent-flyer miles to make the trip.

Chris Dennis said he has been part of small Shocker fan sections before, he said. At a recent game in Hawaii, about 300 fans in the stands wore black and gold.

“You’ve just gotta be loud,” he said.

The black-and-gold Shocker section at the game on Thursday might be a little small, but it will be mighty, Eric Sexton, WSU director of athletics, said.

“We have people flying down, driving down. It’s exciting,” Sexton said. “We’re still going to have people show up.”

Reach Denise Neil at 316-268-6327 or dneil@wichitaeagle.com.

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