If the Shockers win an NCAA tournament game, fans have 8-year-old Grace Heinrichs to thank.
If Grace is in the audience when the Shockers play, they win. (Wichita State vs. Seton Hall. 2006. Greensboro, N.C. Grace was 1.)
If she’s not, they lose. (WSU vs. VCU. Last year. Portland. Grace was at home.)
“She’s undefeated in the NCAA tournament,” said her mother, Joy, who does her part to keep the Shockers winning by never, ever putting Shockers-related posts on Facebook before a game.
The Grace Factor is just one of the superstitions, signs and omens that keep Shocker fans going during the stress of tournament time.
They’ll do anything to help the Shockers win, they say, even perform strange rituals, wear dirty shirts or apply loud eye shadow.
“We’re not all really superstitious,” said Wichita State athletic director Eric Sexton, who at Thursday’s Shocker game vs. Pittsburgh took a good luck stroll around the arena during the second half, just exactly the same way he had in the first half. “But guess what? If it worked, we’re not going to take a chance by not doing it again.”
On Saturday in Salt Lake City, the Shockers’ fans gathered to send the Shockers off at the team hotel confessed to a long list of strange behavior they indulge in, all in the name of helping their team win.
Sherry Scott, who traveled from Wichita with her husband, Ken, said she always wears her good-luck Shockers charm bracelet to the games. It has to be on her right hand. Her temporary Shocker face tattoo also must be in the exact same place on her left cheek.
“It just gives you a comfort level,” she said. “It’s something I always do before the game, so I have to keep doing it.”
Chris Curry, who brought his 10-year-old stepdaughter Skylar Crowe to Salt Lake City, said the two noticed after Thursday’s game that she’d accidentally worn her necklace backwards.
“I told her she’d better wear it the same way today,” Chris said with a laugh. “You don’t change things like that in sports.”
Brian Heinrichs, Grace’s dad, had a favorite Shockers shirt he used to wear to games. Then, the team lost a few when he had it on. Now it’s put away. For good.
“We lost to Creighton in that shirt twice,” he said. “It’s gone-zo. I still have it, but I’ll never wear it again.”
The Wichita State cheerleaders say they also pay attention to rituals and signs to avoid messing with the team’s star alignment.
They perform their warm-up in the exact same order, every time. And they obey signs the universe sends them.
“We had a fortune cookie yesterday that told us to focus on the color purple to bring good luck,” said cheerleader Katie Lewis, her eyelids thick with purple eye shadow. “We’re very superstitious. It just gives you the hope that you can help the team win.”