ST. LOUIS — When the television cameras pan the crowd during the Shockers’ Missouri Valley Tournament games this weekend, odds are excellent that they’ll stop on Braden Pelischek.
They almost always do.
Pelischek, unofficially known as the face of the Shockers’ student section, might be the most photographed fan in recent WSU history.
He’s at every home game, always positioned front and center of the student section. He wears wigs. He slathers himself in face paint. He has a whole closet full of crazy costumes, and he’s not afraid to wear them.
Most important, though, Pelischek, a Hutchinson junior, has perfected his fan face – that hands-in-the-air, mouth-wide-open roar of hysterical euphoria that cameras love.
And the cameras love Pelischek.
His image has appeared on several promotional pieces done by the WSU marketing department, including one advertising Arch Madness last year and another plastered to the side of a shuttle bus.
Pelischek has been photographed by Eagle photographers so many times he could be the subject of his own photo gallery. This year, one of those photos appeared on Sports Illustrated’s website in a gallery of “College Superfans.”
His cheering face led ESPN’s “SportsCenter” highlight reel after the Western Kentucky game earlier this season, and his Facebook page bears photographic proof of many more on-camera moments.
He and the giant WuShock tattoo he got on his left bicep two years ago are so well known around campus that his fellow students almost consider him a member of the team, and apparently, so do the team members.
On his 21st birthday earlier this week, Pelischek got birthday greetings from both Cleanthony Early and Nick Wiggins via Twitter, where Pelischeck is famously known as @B-Peli™ 31-0.
“Happy bday to shockers most die hard fan,” Early wrote.
And Wiggins: “Happy 21st birthday to the craziest shocker fan I know.. Live it up my boy..from ya boy Wiggy!!”
“You have your fans, and then you have me,” Pelischek said. “And this isn’t an exaggeration: I walk into Koch Arena and I get goosebumps. Every game.”
Pelischek is among 80 WSU students who were scheduled to pile onto two buses at Koch Arena at midnight Thursday, with plans to arrive in St. Louis at 8 a.m. Friday. Each earned his or her seat on the bus accumulating points by attending events in support of WSU athletics.
Pelischek ranked 10th in total points.
“All the athletes know him, and all the coaches know him,” said Cyntila Nixon, a junior who also is in the St. Louis student fan contingency. “I told him, ‘You’re the face of the student section.’ ”
Pelischek said he’s always been inclined toward superfandom, even as a kid. When he decided to attend WSU and major in music, that part of his personality was amplified.
He began attending all the home games, his interest bolstered by a friendship with a walk-on named Ron Baker, whom he met his first day on campus when both were moving into Fairmount Towers. The two became ping-pong buddies, Pelischek said, and their friendship endures today. (Though it’s mainly conducted via text message, Pelischek said, because Baker’s a little busier now.)
His sophomore year, Pelischek joined Shocker Sounds, the WSU pep band, as a tuba player, and he traveled with the band and the team through last year’s Final Four run. It was Pelischek who played the famously familiar introductory notes for “War,” the tune that became WSU’s unofficial fight song during the tournament.
Pelischek had to quit the band this year, though, he said. The band’s code of professionalism simply does not allow him to express himself the way he needs to during games.
He’s among the students who have permanent addresses in Marshallville, the area outside Koch Arena where students camp out for seats, and he tries to arrive at the arena at least seven hours before each home game.
“I consider being a Wichita State Shocker fan a full-time job,” he said. “There’s no days off. You’re constantly doing homework. You’re constantly thinking, ‘OK, so we beat Bradley. Now we’re going to play Evansville. What’s their roster? Who scores the most?’ ”
His top responsibilities, he said, are distracting the opponents with his antics in the stands and offering words of encouragement to Shocker players as they exit the court.
He also has been appointed the master of student section spirit, and his devotion is contagious, say some of his classmates.
“When people think of the student section, they think of Braden Pelischek, front row, screaming his head off and getting the whole student section behind him,” said sophomore and fellow superfan Katelyn Nuss. “He’s my inspiration about how to be a true Shocker fan. He’s there through thick and thin.”
Pelischek said he can’t wait to see for himself how the team does in St. Louis this weekend, and he can’t wait to cheer like a maniac, unencumbered by the bonds of pep band professionalism.
He doesn’t want to jinx the team, he said, but he does have a relative he could stay with in Dallas if he had some reason to travel there in, say, early April for, you know, the Final Four.
Pelischek said he gets emotional when he thinks about how lucky he is to be a WSU student during this time in the school’s sports history.
“It’s something I’ll always remember,” he said. “Unless you’re a part of it, you don’t know the magic.”