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Hue and cry Will North fans make others green with envy

Mike Kane was taking part in the normal high school ritual last summer -- visiting college campuses.

When he arrived in East Lansing, Mich., the admissions tour included video of the student section at Michigan State basketball games.

Kane was hooked. Michigan State became his college of choice, but more than that, he called his friend, R.J. Zurak, that night to discuss how to give their high school hoops games a more collegiate atmosphere.

And so the Williamsville North seniors created The Green Squall -- a rowdy, spirited group of students who support the school's boys basketball and hockey teams.

"We like the college atmosphere and thought we could bring it to Will North," Kane said. "We sold 384 T-shirts. At games in our section of the bleachers, at least 75 percent of the students are wearing the T-shirts."

And that's not all they're wearing. What does the Green Squall entail?

Well, Kane and Zurak show up to games in hard hats. Another student wears Kelly green pants. The T-shirts read "We bleed green, we sweat gold" -- a reference to Williamsville North's colors.

Kane himself does the pregame introductions, with all the embellishments of a 1950s-era disc jockey. Kane and Zurak burn new CDs for every game, playing music between quarters so the students can have a good, old-fashioned mini-rave when there's a break in the basketball action.

"I've been to a lot of different schools this year and no one is like the Green Squall," Clarence Athletics Director Greg Kaszubski said. "They really got it going on."

It smells like team spirit in the bleachers of other Western New York high schools, too. St. Joe's has long stood as the marker of the area sixth man with its self-proclaimed rowdy section.

"It's a different day and age," said St. Joe's Athletics Director Joe Wolf. "When I was at St. Joe's, it was different. All of the cheering was positive and guys all wore their letter sweaters to the game, but that's going back into ancient history.

"I don't see it just at St. Joe's. Every place we play, there's a group of kids who are very enthusiastic. . . . At the Canisius game, they were on one side and we were at the other side, and there were very spirited chants back and forth. Nothing vulgar but some of them are creative."

The student section at Frontier has boasted its own sense of creativity this season. Athletics Director Tim Marong said that a group of students painted "jerseys" on their chests to correspond with Frontier's starting lineup. As the players were announced and ran through the typical line of bench players onto the floor, the corresponding fan ran through a line of students into the bleachers.

"We have a very enthusiastic crowd," Marong said. "The students are very supportive of each other and we emphasize cheering for your team. I think in the free throw situation the kids sometimes mimic what they see going on in the college game and that's a little unsportsmanlike at the high school level -- the obnoxious yelling during free throws."

Indeed "the line" can be difficult to define. What may be inappropriate to one person may just be clever to another. At Pioneer, Athletics Director Jim Graczyk said that some people find the students' holding up of newspapers during the opposing team's introductions disrespectful.

"I don't see it that way. I think that's pretty harmless," Graczyk said. "You do want to make sure the kids are cheering positively for your school. We had a few kids who weren't from our school at one of our games and they tried to start cheering something questionable. Our kids didn't take to that and told them we don't do that here. That makes you feel you did something right along the way."

The emphasis is on a fun atmosphere, according to Williamsville North's Kane.

"It's really just fun. A lot of kids aren't into basketball," Kane said. "But this makes it a social event, someplace to go."

Don't count out the creation of a unique home court advantage, though.

"It's a great atmosphere," North boys basketball coach Chuck Swierski said. "They've got to be good for at least four or five points each game, as far as just getting into someone's head. . . . They came to me to see if I would sign off on the T-shirt design. When I found out what they wanted to do and the numbers they had interested, that was a no-brainer."

It wasn't completely a no-brainer to school officials, though. Kane said he met with administrators several times to allay their fears of student sections run out of control.

"Their biggest fear was that the cheering would go negative," Kane said. "We definitely keep it positive. We go to a lot of games at other high schools and sometimes they'll cheer things like, 'You're on steroids,' to our players. We don't do that. We don't like to stoop to that."

From their spot behind the team bench, the Green Squall does the wave, sometimes in slow motion, tastefully taunts the opposition, goads parents to their feet and even shakes a little booty.

The Green Squall's signature cheer is a variation of the sports arena classic, "Rock and Roll Part II" by Gary Glitter. They chant "Will North!" at the end of the chorus.

Of course, atmosphere can be a product of several other factors. For instance at the Buffalo public schools, principals have a long-standing rule to prohibit students from attending away games, though family members and pre-approved personnel can travel.

Still, Dave Rappl, the athletics director and boys basketball coach at Hutch-Tech, said their student support can be pretty strong.

"We actually get more kids out when we play other city schools," Rappl said. "We had played Kenmore West and thought we'd get more people than we did but when we play city schools, the fans come out. Mostly because they know each other at the different schools. Of course, it always helps when you're winning."

Winning programs and "big games" bring out the fans, too. A recent contest between Sacred Heart and Nardin played at Canisius brought a significant number of fans out -- mostly because the teams are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the Western New York Girls Large School Poll.

"The crowd like that really gets us more into the game," Sacred Heart junior Liz Subjeck said. "It's exciting to play when the crowd is into it."

"It really is great when the school gets involved," Meaghan Daley said. "Nardin is our rival, so it was a pretty big game. And there was definitely a buzz around the school the next day."

As for the crew at Williamsville North, Kane and Zurak have already hand-picked their successors for next year to carry on the new Green Squall tradition.

"I'll be at Michigan State and R.J. will be at Mississippi State, but with how easy it is to keep in touch, I'm sure we'll be able to help run things from where we're at," Kane said.

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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