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Up close and personal at a Bandits game

“B-O-X! B-O-X! Box! Box! Box box box, whooo!” This chant brings a feeling of collective excitement to the crowd at a Buffalo Bandits game.

I was thrilled to be in attendance Saturday night for a behind-the-scenes look at First Niagara Center, where the air was electric with anticipation before the start of the professional lacrosse game. The sight of many fans sporting vibrant orange gear in support of the Bandits gave spectators a sense of camaraderie. Signs that read “BANDITS” were at the ready in fans’ eager arms.

I connected with other young fans to find out what they loved about attending a Bandits game. Many of them said they enjoy the chants that erupt from the crowd.

“I like it when the announcer gets the crowd involved and everyone starts shouting,” said Abby Haase, a seventh-grader at Mill Middle School in Williamsville.

“I like the chants, especially ‘Buffalo what?!’ It adds to the ecstatic environment,” added Justin Renik, a senior at West Seneca West High School.

The voice behind the chants is that of public address announcer Chris Swenson, who started working for the Bandits in 1992.

“It’s awesome when the crowd is involved and the team is winning,” Swenson said. “There’s nothing more electric than Banditland when the team is playing well and the crowd is thrilled.”

I asked Swenson if he is as enthusiastic outside of the game.

“I definitely have my moments,” he said. “I love to have a great time, and when that microphone flips on, I’m a different person. Part of what I need to do is not only help the team but also make sure that the fans have a good time. I feel like I owe it to the fans as well as the team to put on a good show.”

The games are jam-packed with not only prime action on the field but also nonstop action on the Jumbotron to give the arena an extra spark of liveliness. This includes light banners that scream the happening chants and music playing throughout the game.

Game coordinator Kelsey Schneider talked about preparing for games.

“In game presentation, we plan everything that happens: pregame ceremony, music, videos, in-game promotions, and coordinate with Chris Swenson,” she said. “We ensure everyone on the floor is in place, direct the video board crew and on-screen graphics. The entire game-day experience is planned by our team.”

And of course, it’s the players that bring fans the action.

Goaltender Anthony Cosmo is a fan favorite. He is a schoolteacher, and has been playing professional lacrosse for 15 years, the last five with Buffalo. I talked with Cosmo after the game:

NeXt: First things first, does it hurt to get hit with those balls and sticks?

Anthony Cosmo: As a goaltender, I have more protection than the other players who have to worry about slashes and body checks, so I have the light end of the stick there.

NeXt: What techniques do you use to stay focused for such a fast-paced game?

AC: I work with our team counselor. He helps me quite a bit, envisioning myself on the field as if I’ve been there before, staying focused.

NeXt: How do you feel when you hear the crowd celebrating for your team?

AC: The Buffalo fan base is by far the best anywhere. I love to come and play here, and hearing the crowd cheering for your team is energizing.

NeXt: How do you feel when meeting a fan?

AC: I love it. It pulls at the heartstrings and adds to the job experience, as this is a job I love doing.

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The Bandits won 12-8 over the Minnesota Swarm. Catch them at home April 4 when they take on the New England Black Wolves.

Casey Baun is a senior at Orchard Park High School.