April 7, 2013

Wichita State’s Final Four run has brought together students, community

Now that the ride is over and the Shockers are home, resting from three weeks of providing history-making thrills for Wichita, fans are feeling philosophical.

Now that the ride is over and the Shockers are home, resting from three weeks of providing history-making thrills for Wichita, fans are feeling philosophical.

Many Shocker supporters will be watching Monday night as Louisville (darn them) plays Michigan in the NCAA championship game – whether they do so from their already-purchased seats in Altanta or from the comfort of their couches in Wichita, a city still buzzing from the self-image boost of a lifetime.

And even though most of them say they think the Shockers deserved a spot in that game, they’re not losing sight of what’s already happened.

“Even though the Shockers didn’t win, everyone is going to look back and say they saw something very special here,” said Jerry Marcus, a season ticket holder who’s been attending Shocker games since 1947 and had close seats at Saturday night’s game.

The team’s tournament success will provide a boost for sure, fans said, and not only for the basketball program.

Erin Snodgrass, a WSU senior who attended Saturday’s game, said that she’s already noticing a change of attitude on campus.

A transfer from a private school that had a united, involved student body, Snodgrass said it took her time to get used to Wichita State feeling like a disconnected commuter school.

But during the past three weeks, KU and K-State sweatshirts frequently seen in classrooms have been replaced by all black and gold.

Students have been excited. Proud. Finally unified.

“It’s been a great thing,” she said. “We don’t always have a lot of camaraderie. But this has brought that camaraderie we didn’t have.”

Larry Beamer, a Wichita surgeon who’s had season tickets for more than 30 years, said he’s noticed a change in Wichita’s attitude, too.

That famous inferiority complex Wichita notoriously suffers from seems to have evaporated.

He talked about the surreal experience of being at the pregame pep rally in Atlanta, which was packed with more than 4,000 giddy Wichitans – politicians, WSU employees, young families, retirees, students. He saw lifelong fans, new fans, fans who’d moved from Wichita years ago but wanted everyone to know they’d once lived there.

The team is letting the city piggyback on their moment of pride.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of,” Beamer said. “We got to this point, and we could have been in the final game. Get rid of a couple of questionable referee calls, and we’re there. We belong here.”

Rest assured, said WSU’s play-by-play broadcaster Mike Kennedy, that as good as the moment was for Wichita, it’ll be even better for Wichita State basketball.

He said he can’t wait to see what the results of the Final Four appearance will be over the next year.

Will Wichita State get even better recruits?

Will even bigger opponents want to put the Shockers on their schedules?

Will people fight even harder for season tickets?

It’ll be interesting to see how it all develops and to see what the returning players do with their Final Four experience – invaluable experience that can only be gained by reaching the Final Four, he said.

And few teams ever do that.

“This will be a run people remember for the rest of their lives,” Kennedy said. “Even if we get back here in the future and even win it maybe, this will be the one people always remember.”

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