Cager fans ignite interest for student participation

By Eric Burt

If you were at Monday night’s men’s basketball game, you probably noticed a group of fans donning red fire hats.

No, it wasn’t a field trip for a local fire department.

It was a group of students known as the Organization of Particularly Rowdy A——-, or OPRA. OPRA is working on improving attendance at men’s basketball games.

According to President Jim Bieniek, fire hats are sold at men’s basketball home games. Each is affixed with a number at each game. At the end of the season, all the numbers are put in a barrel and the winner receives a $100 cash prize.

“The more games you go to, the better your chance of winning,” Bieniek said. “Last year we gave away an airline ticket to anywhere for spring break. This year we couldn’t do that so we’re going to give $100 of the revenue from the sale of the hats as the prize. We have 400 hats outstanding and about 140 left to sell.”

“The athletic department didn’t go to the group,” said Mary Mihelich, assistant athletic director for promotions and marketing. “The coaches went out to the group to have them come. They are a group with energy and consistent attendance.”

While NIU men’s basketball coach Jim Rosborough said he is in favor of school spirit, he also believes in sportsmanship.

“As long as they stay positive, the guys are great,” Rosborough said. “Last year, they were vicious. I have met with the guys, and I have talked to them about it. I would like to see more people get into it.”

Rosborough said having a following gives the home games a pleasant atmosphere.

“We really want a home-court advantage like we (go against) when we play at another school. They can bring hats and newspapers as long as they stay positive. I’m happy to help. Last year I took money out of my pocket to help buy more hats. I also bought a dunk-o-meter for the games,” Rosborough said.

OPRA is not an organization associated with the athletic department. The promotion OPRA has created was started by the students.

“They are a student organization not unlike a fraternity or sorority with their sweats,” Mihelich said. “As long as they stay a positive force at the games, we’ll be happy to have them around. We’d like to continue seeing their enthusiasm.”

“The idea for the hats has been around for awhile,” Bieniek said. “I talked with Mary Mihelich last year, and we got together the idea for attendance promotion.”

The OPRA group will be present at the men’s basketball game tonight against UW-Green Bay, under the west basket, selling their fire hats for $1.