When you’re standing in the student section of the Kohl Center, it can be easy to feel distant from all of the other students around you, the Crease Creatures at the University of Wisconsin are looking to change that.
Madison has been ranked as the number one college football town in the country by many outlets including Sports Illustrated and USA Today. A large part of that stems from the atmosphere in Camp Randall come kickoff.
Despite the national recognition, football isn’t even the best sporting event in Madison for a lot of people. That title belongs to a team in the Kohl Center, and it’s not basketball. And this year, some students have decided to make the best student section even better.
Six students have organized and created an official student org for the student section at men’s hockey games with the intention to improve the student section both during games and outside of the arena.
The Crease Creatures, as the student section at the men’s hockey games have been called since the move to the Kohl Center, have already created one of the most intimidating stadium atmospheres in the Big Ten, if not the country. But with the creation of an official student org, the founders are trying to expand the fellowship of fans past the gameday experience.
Zach Epstein, the new president of the Crease Creatures, says the club is will include monthly meetings where students can suggest new chants or ideas to make the game experience better. They’ll also create pregame meetups where dedicated fans can get to know one another and organize away game watch parties around campus with the overall goal of creating a friendly atmosphere.
“Everyone on the board, myself included, we think hockey is by far the best student section,” Epstein said. “We want to make sure when other people come, they leave the game thinking the same thing.”
Epstein, credits the willingness of the students to dance with the band as one of the features that sets apart the hockey student section from others on campus.
That’s not to say there won’t be challenges in the first year of the student org. Epstein says one of those challenges is simply making sure they get the word out.
“For the first year to be successful, we need to one, make sure people that have student tickets understand that the org exists,” Epstein says. “I think education is the most important thing.”
One way they have been able to communicate with students is through email. Because the club is free this first year, any student who bought men’s hockey tickets was automatically admitted into the club and signed up to receive emails from them.
Epstein also expressed some difficulties about adding to a student section that already has such a rich history and tradition. He and the rest of the Crease Creatures know they cant simply change whatever they want to, it has to be organic.
“It’s hard to really plan to change things,” Epstein said. “Things kind of have to happen naturally for it to become a tradition.”
Within games, Epstein says there isn’t too much he wants to change. He describes Phil, a student section favorite, as a “one-man student section” who is always prepared. And from the band, “They just need to keep doing what they’re doing. As far as I’m concerned, they’re doing an excellent job,” he said.
One place they can look at making chang is the music that’s played during the games. Epstein says the Crease Creatures have looked into getting in contact with those in charge of the playlist to try and organize more communication between the two groups about the in-game music and creating a specific feeling in the Kohl Center during games.
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Despite the concerns of education and tradition, Epstein says he believes the club can be successful in its first year. Past that, however, he hopes his club can be a part of a bigger movement.
In his hopes for the future, he cites Ohio State’s student section as something that UW-Madison should look to emulate. In Ohio State’s system, they have one overarching student org called “The Block O.” But under that head group, they have branches assigned to either football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey to organize those game day atmospheres.
“We have such great students and student fans. I’m honestly surprised we don’t have something more in place like that,” Epstein said. “If I could come back in ten years and look at Wisconsin athletics and the student fan population, that would be something I would love to see.”
Epstein and the Crease Creatures already have the support from the hockey program and UW Athletics, who both played a large part in organizing the kick-off event during ticket distribution to students on Tuesday.
But for now, it is up to the students and whether or not they will support this newly founded club.