The human ear is a resilient piece of machinery.
Its tiny muscles and tendons protect us from damage before we even realize we’re in danger, tightening and stretching to adjust to loud noises.
Our ears, to put it bluntly, usually have our back.
And nowhere in Wichita are they voluntarily put to the test more than on a game night at Koch Arena, when the undefeated Wichita State men’s basketball team is going for another victory in front of 10,506 fans that put sound levels into dangerous territory every time the Shockers step on the court.
During WSU’s 83-54 win over Drake at home on Saturday, decibel levels were tracked from the opening tip through the final buzzer – and the results showed what most Shocker fans probably already knew.
It’s loud in there. And when the Shockers get a dunk, or they’re on defense, it’s usually at its loudest.
“When we’re exposed to noises that are up to the threshold of pain, the ears are very adept at correcting themselves to protect our hearing, to make sure we don’t sustain any damage,” said Mark Bogner, a state-licensed hearing instrument specialist with Beltone. “And when we’re at a concert or a game, there’s a temporary threshold shift that occurs.
“It’s the reason why, for a day or two after, you almost feel stuffed up but then your hearing goes completely back to normal. It’s odd … some people can go to one event and have their hearing damaged forever, and some people can go to concerts every weekend and not have damage. What’s important is that we understand what we’re exposing ourselves to.”
Bogner tests people’s hearing every day, using tests designed to determine diseases or deformities and determine the best course of action – sometimes hearing aids, sometimes surgery.
According to the decibel readings of common sounds, 90 is considered very loud, similar to standing next to a truck without a muffler or being in a noisy factory. Getting up to 100 is akin to being on a riding lawnmower. When the sound level reaches 110 decibels, it’s considered deafening.
Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., which seats 76,416, broke the Guinness World Record for loudest crowd at an outdoor stadium on Oct. 13 against the Oakland Raiders, reaching 137.5 decibels.
A few weeks later, the record was broken by Seattle Seahawks fans at CenturyLink Field by hitting 137.8.
“Koch Arena is different because it’s enclosed,” Bogner said. “But where Arrowhead got to, that’s where it’s physically painful to 90 percent of people.”
In the first half of the game against Drake, fans at Koch Arena peaked at 101.9 decibels on back-to-back dunks from Tekele Cotton and Nick Wiggins that put the Shockers up 28-17 with 4:06 left before halftime. What’s remarkable is that noise level was sustained for almost a full minute.
Most positive plays for the Shockers in the first half reached around the 100-decibel mark – a basket by Fred VanVleet followed by a steal and layup by Cotton with 6:39 to play reached 100.5 decibels. A block by Kadeem Coleby garnered a 99.1 with just less than four minutes to play.
It wasn’t all positivity the fans reacted to, either. A charge called on Ron Baker for his second foul of the first half, with 8:18 left, registered a 99.1 – the same as a Drake turnover just one minute later.
“The noise (in Koch Arena) makes it hard to communicate,” Drake coach Ray Giacoletti said. “You’ve got to do the best you can, but it gives them such an advantage.”
In the second half, it got even louder, reaching 102.1 decibels on a dunk by Darius Carter that put the Shockers up 41-19 with 17:29 left and then peaking at 102.8 on a defensive stand by WSU with less than nine minutes left.
“Anything you can do to protect your hearing, I think that’s smart,” Bogner said. “Anything you can do to reduce that sound pressure that could cause nerve damage in the inner ear. Foam earplugs can help. With small children, definitely use earmuffs.”
Even with a 30-point lead and the game already decided, Koch Arena was still loud. It reached 100.5 decibels when Cotton was taken out of the game after scoring a career-high 21 points and matching the WSU single-game record with seven steals and hit 100.3 on back-to-back three-pointers by Wichita native Evan Wessel with time winding down.
And there’s still one more chance to get loud. No. 2 Wichita State (30-0, 17-0 Missouri Valley Conference) hosts Missouri State on Saturday in its regular-season finale, the final home game for seniors Cleanthony Early, Wiggins, Chadrack Lufile and Coleby.
The Shockers have already clinched the MVC title and the top seed in next week’s MVC Tournament in St. Louis.
“You feel it when you’re on the court,” Wessel said. “That’s just how our fans are, every game. They’re amazing.”