Hoops crowd sets attendance record

Brentaro Yamane | Multimedia Editor | Dan Burt got on the PA system after the game, where he thanked the crowd, then tried to get the soundboard control to play ‘Party in the USA,’ which had inspired a dance party/karaoke session earlier.

Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor

Several Duquesne men’s basketball players, wearing flip-flops and munching on protein bars, poked their heads out from the tunnels of Cooper Fieldhouse with wide-eyed looks on their faces. They had just finished a recovery session after Tuesday night’s win over Saint Louis. It was only 10:30 in the morning, but not everyone was as low-key as they were. They looked across packed bleachers and saw that their arena was rocking.

It was “Education Day,” and 3,023 local grade-schoolers filled the grandstands on Wednesday to enjoy a day of truancy and Duquesne women’s basketball. It was the largest crowd in program history, and it got to see a 10-point win for the Dukes.

“I want to say thank you to all of the Duquesne athletic department for what they did today to provide a championship environment,” said Head Coach Dan Burt. “We gave them a championship game, and our players certainly gave them a championship effort.”

As early as 10 a.m., students poured through the gates with signs and lunchboxes in hand. The men’s soccer team acted as ushers, escorting curious but wandering students to their seats. The chatter bounced around the arena like a cafeteria.

“That’s the type of crowd you want to play in front of, so it was definitely a lot of fun,” said guard Jerni Kiaku.

Burt grinned as his team ran out for warmups. “This is going to be crazy.”

Normal season ticket holders were invited up into the luxury seats to accommodate row after row of kids. Before the game, students were gifted knapsacks that included a Duquesne basketball-themed workbook, in which they had to decide whether Kiaku was the faster or fastest player on the team.

Leah Adams is Duquesne’s director of marketing and fan engagement and was primarily responsible for putting the occasion together. Once all the buses were back on the road, she caught her breath and talked about the importance of the day. She said it took months and months of planning to execute Duquesne’s first “Education Day” since the pandemic.

“I think being able to have local elementary and middle school students come to the game … It’s important,” she said. “All the students who came were so amazing and energetic, and definitely helped us pull out the win.”

The energy was unbridled from before the opening tip. Not only was the crowd big, but it was easily entertained. They exploded into a falsetto roar with every made basket, including from the visitors. They meant well, but they were just as loud when Duquesne had the ball as George Washington, creating an unusual atmosphere for the players.

“That was certainly a game where you had to have incredible focus and you couldn’t relax for a second,” Burt said. “Those kids were dialed in.”

“It was a lot of energy. It was loud. We couldn’t hear,” said Precious Johnson.

“I’m really surprised I have a voice,” Burt added.

Not only was the experience fun, but it was also enriching, said Jessica Scerbo, an ESL teacher from Seneca Valley, and third-place finisher in the teacher musical chairs game at halftime. A lot of her students are new to the United States and were experiencing high-level basketball for the first time.

“The kids were really excited leading up to this,” Scerbo said. “I think it’s nice for them to just be in a big crowd with the excitement in the air.”

Of course, basketball wasn’t the only attraction. Scerbo’s students loved the mascot, who spent most of his day allowing students to try on his top hat.

After the game, players stayed on the court for 45 minutes to sign autographs for the students waiting out the queue of school buses.

“I think it’s a great thing that Duquesne is doing for the community. It offers an opportunity to step outside of places you’ve always seen,” Scerbo said. “Some of our kids haven’t been Downtown very much.”

Burt agreed. He said it was a hugely beneficial day for fans and players alike.

“This was a great day in Duquesne women’s basketball history.”