ATLANTA — It might be quicker to list who wasn’t at Saturday afternoon’s massive Shocker pep rally, which filled a cavernous room in the Georgia World Congress Center with so many people that you had to wonder who was left back in Wichita – or Kansas, for that matter.
The event, organized by the Wichita State Alumni Association, was estimated to have drawn between 4,000 and 5,000 people – all wearing black and yellow and all giddy with nervous energy about the Shockers’ impending appearance in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.
The energy wasn’t quite enough to push the Shockers past Louisville on Saturday night. The Cardinals rallied in the second half to down WSU 72-68.
The list of attendees included Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Wichita State University President John Bardo and two former WSU presidents, Eugene Hughes and Don Beggs and his wife, Shirley.
Lynn Marshall was there, though her husband, Coach Gregg Marshall, wasn’t.
He was busy.
There were several former Shocker basketball players there, too, including Cliff Levingston, Aaron Davis, Matt Braeuer, Darrin Williams, John Cooper, Cameron Ledford and recent Shocker P.J. Couisnard, who earned loud applause from the rowdy crowd. Two players from the 1965 Final Four team also were there: Tommy Newman and Manny Zafiros.
“All those pictures of us are hanging up in Koch Arena,” Newman told the crowd. “They’re coming down, and this team is going up.”
Fans started gathering outside the locked doors in the massive complex more than an hour before it opened.
Inside, they stood in long lines for pizza, barbecue, wings and beer and hugged people they’d run into from back home.
Among those at the rally were a foursome of girlfriends, all dressed in identical wild Shocker outfits that included Shocker hats and black and yellow Hawaiian leis. They couldn’t make it very far before people stopped them and asked them to pose for pictures.
“This is beyond belief,” said Amy Chambers, who said that people had been stopping them all over Atlanta all morning, voicing their support for the Shockers.
The rally included perhaps the liveliest yet rendition of “You Don’t Want to Go to War” by the Shocker Sound pep band, who showed off the trophy they had just won in an NCAA-sponsored Battle of the Pep Bands.
“When I planned this, I thought we might get a couple of thousand people,” said Debbie Kennedy, president of the WSU Alumni Association. “But I wouldn’t even take a guess how many people are here. I feel like I planned a wedding in five days for 5,000 people in a city where I’ve never been.”