As an Illinois Wesleyan player dribbles for his second free throw attempt, a Wheaton student decked in all white does the splits with a group of roaring fans behind him. Ryken’s Rowdies have returned.
In the past fall semester, Anna Nussbaum ‘19, Wheaton softball coach and office coordinator of athletics, wanted to officially restart Ryken’s Rowdies, a group of students who rally for athletes at football, basketball and soccer games.
“[Ryken’s Rowdies] unites the team and the fans in such a beautiful way. It’s not just the team winning the games, the fans have a role in that,” said Nussbaum.
Rusty Lindsey, a former assistant baseball coach who now works in communications for Wheaton athletics, first assembled Ryken’s Rowdies in 2016, when he was a coach. He hoped to bring Wheaton students together to support Wheaton sports, recognizing the special relationship fans have with athletes. The group was named after President Philip Ryken, who is often found in the stands himself as an avid supporter of Wheaton athletics.
With the support of President Ryken, Ryken’s Rowdies began. During the pandemic, the group disbanded due to protocols preventing fans from attending games.
Nussbaum herself was a student-athlete; she played softball as a Wheaton student and participated in the Rowdies when the tradition first started. She said that whether she was on the field or cheering in the stands, she loved supporting Wheaton athletics.
“The atmosphere in the gym contributes to how you play. Not that it necessarily affected your talent, but it affected your mental game,” she said. “Even as an athlete, it’s also encouraging to see that you can look behind your bench and you see all these students there.”
Anyone can be a fan by showing support and coming to a game, but this past fall Nussbaum took it upon herself to organize and assemble a select group of students as Rowdies.
She began by consulting Amelia Sniffin, a senior majoring in communications, who played for three years on Wheaton’s women’s basketball team. As someone dedicated to supporting Wheaton athletics, Sniffin loved the idea of bringing back the Rowdies to help motivate players and psych out the competition.
Sniffin and Nussbaum assembled a group of non-athletes and athletes to cheer for Wheaton sports teams. Now, the Rowdies’ leadership team consists of 15 students. This group serves as the primary leaders who rally the fans during games. In the future, Nussbaum hopes to work a booth at the club fair to encourage even greater involvement and promote the group.
Through their Instagram page, Ryken’s Rowdies promote upcoming sports events and post about the Rowdies’ activities during games. They have also created a punch card for all the home games throughout the academic year; if students go to all the games, they can enter a raffle for a free TV.
In addition, Rowdies occasionally choose a color to wear to the games; for instance, students in the past have participated in a blue-out where everyone wore blue to the event. The Rowdies also promote the tradition of Fanbag Friday, a giveaway where the athletics program sends someone to place a Wheaton-branded backpack filled with prizes somewhere on campus and students have the chance to find and win the backpack.
On Dec. 3, the men’s basketball team faced Calvin University and the Rowdies showed up to support the Thunder. Sniffin recalls this as a special moment for the Rowdies.
“[The players] were really fired up by the fan section and were all over Calvin, in their heads all game. Witnessing that made me so excited that [Ryken’s Rowdies] is back because it can be the turning point in any game to have all of King Arena behind you,” said Sniffin.
Zach Orange, a junior majoring in economics, became involved with the leadership team after being recommended by Sniffin. For Orange, Ryken’s Rowdies has been an outlet for fostering unity on campus.
“It’s nice to have a group of people to go to the games with and cheer together. I consider myself a big sports fan, and I go to all the games, but it’s nice having people around me that are cheering for the same cause and getting rowdy together.”