There’s something unique about going to a Williams basketball game: If you stand in the crowd at Chandler Gym, you might notice that, unlike at a professional or Div. I game, most of the people are sitting down. Watching basketball games at Williams, other than the much-anticipated Amherst showdown which only happens twice a year, can be difficult for a true fan. Those who do go will often see polite Williams fans occasionally shouting cheers in support of their friends out on the court. And then there’s the guaranteed monstrous Troy Whittington [’11] dunk that ignites the crowds – the moment when Williams fans light up and visiting teams ask themselves, “Well, now what?”
Not too long ago, my freshman year to be exact, Pierre Meloty-Kapella [’10], Khalid Bashir [’12] and I made it a priority to claim seats in the front row of bleachers,– but of course not before grabbing a roster or two to fully prepare for the onslaught of verbal abuse we generously dealt our opponents. Most of the time we ended up blocking those behind us with our obnoxious jumping around and constant standing.
Basketball games were a weekend staple, a guaranteed arena for hilarity and tomfoolery. We marked our success by how many referees and players we could get to snicker at our comments and, needless to say, it worked. At one particular game, we unhinged our imaginations and gave birth to the notion of the “Sixth Man.” The concept in itself is not revolutionary and, in fact, many other schools have institutionalized Sixth Man organizations. But little did we know this long-running joke would soon become a new way to engage and unite our community.
The next fall we jumped at the opportunity to make history, and with the trust and good faith of the Williams community, Pierre, Khalid and I somehow managed to bring Sixth Man to life. We brainstormed during a marathon planning session in Schow Atrium one night, deciding how we would pay for such an endeavor – and then the magic happened. We started tabling the next week in Paresky, and by the end of the week we had somehow managed to sell around 200 to 250 shirts. I, for one, was a little skeptical about people buying shirts from us – I mean, let’s be real, we were three random people trying to convince people to buy these shirts for basketball games. In other words, you guys must have really trusted us.
The weeks leading up to the first game of the season were some of the most anxiety-filled and exciting moments of my life. When we finally unpacked the box and distributed the t-shirts, it seemed like we were on the verge of something pretty phenomenal. Seeing all types of people, people I’d never met before, people I lived with, all buying these t-shirts was humbling. But no feeling could come close to that of looking out into the crowd and seeing a sea of black t-shirts coming together to watch Williams basketball. There were hundreds of people, from totally different walks of life around campus, rallying for Williams, standing side by side in the same Sixth Man uniform.
It often goes unrecognized how student groups like Sixth Man illuminate a genuine love and ardor for the Williams culture. Every time I pass a peer walking around Paresky wearing a Sixth Man t-shirt, I can’t help but smile. For me, knowing that people genuinely believe in the sense of community we tried to foster is truly inspirational. Think about how often we make a conscious effort to band together around a positive cause – a reason for celebration? Every time someone slips into a Sixth Man jersey or t-shirt, they actively claim membership in something larger than themselves. And it definitely helps that it’s fun to get rowdy at a game with other people.
That being said, I hope to see everyone being loud, proud and aggressively supportive of men’s and women’s basketball this weekend, and any other sport that may be competing for that matter. Wear your Sixth Man shirts with pride and know that you’re a part of a larger community of passionate fans. As Khalid would say, “Let their presence be known. Take pride in cheering. Because nothing is worse than a quiet gym.” The Sixth Man uniform is the Williams uniform – it transcends the normative boundaries we carefully tiptoe around and it unites different people around campus. I’m proud to be a part of Williams Sixth Man and proud to support our teams and the inspiring sense of community they infuse in all our lives.