By CAYDEN SANDERS
Tiger Media Network
When the Fort Hays State men’s basketball returns from its season-opening road trip to Gross Memorial Coliseum for its home opener on Tuesday, the Tigers will be playing in front of a slightly “different” atmosphere.
Thousands of elementary and middle school students from USD 489 and TMP-Marian/Holy Family will pack inside GMC for the Tigers’ home opener against Central Christian.
“I think this was a great idea from our athletic department. I think it will be a great atmosphere for everyone involved. Our team in front of all the kids and to be able to enjoy a game right before break,” FHSU Head Coach Mark Johnson said.
Fort Hays State Athletics has been trying to set up a new event for the community and the students around the Hays community after seeing a similar event the MIAA does each year at the men’s and women’s basketball championships in Kansas City. Kids from area schools come to Municipal Auditorium to watch basketball at the tournament. Matt Cook, associate athletic director at Fort Hays, drew inspiration from the event in KC.
“I am the Chair of the MIAA basketball tournament, and we do that there. We invite inner city kids to come and watch an athletic event like that, and they have a good time and I thought why don’t we try and do that in Hays,” Cook said.
The idea started to move in the summer when Cook reached out to the superintendent of USD 489 schools, Ron Wilson.
“I checked with Ron Wilson to see if there was actual interest in having the event, and he called me back and said that all of the elementary principles were all in on the idea, and that we are all coming,” Cook said.
With the idea rolling to bring kids in Hays to GMC, Cook wanted to reach out to TMP and extend the invitation.
“I wanted to make sure that I invited everyone to come to the game. So all of USD 489 elementary and middle school will be at the game. Obviously, we wanted to reach out to Holy Family and TMP middle school to come and they will be there as well,” Cook said.
For Johnson, his kids were a part of USD 489, and he says it is a unique experience to be able to have Hays kids come to watch Fort Hays play.
“I think it will be a great atmosphere for everyone involved. I am glad we get to have the kids come out and watch our team on the final day before break,” Johnson said. “We always want to be a part of the community, and this is a big way for us to be a part of it.”
During the planning to bring the kids in, Johnson wanted to make sure the game was available for the kids to make the game.
“Mark (Johnson) played a pivotal role in all of this to make sure the kids could come to the game. He was on board from the start, so he pushed the game to start at noon so the students could come out and watch,” Cook said.
Hays students will get free pizza, along with popcorn and snacks while they are at the game. Along with that entertainment throughout the entire day for the kids including a performance from Jammin’ Randy at halftime.
FHSU and Central Christian will tip off at noon on Tuesday. The men will play again at 7:30 on Saturday against Manhattan Christian College inside Gross Memorial Coliseum.