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Archive for Sunday, April 29, 2012

From Neil’s Atomic Fireballs to Tharpe Has My Heart, KU ticket campout is serious, fun business

April 29, 2012

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Hours before tipoff of the Kansas University men’s basketball game on March 3 — the season’s last — student campers are packed into north end of the Allen Fieldhouse concourse.

All these people already have tickets to the game, so that’s not the concern here. At KU, the students park themselves in the fieldhouse for hours on end to get prime seats. Because seats in the student section are unassigned, it’s first-come, first-served.

Some people are using their laptops to watch Syracuse beat Louisville. One is reading “James and the Giant Peach.” There are a lot of smartphones being used. Air mattresses, pillows, blankets and bean-bag chairs abound.

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If the tradition of students camping for basketball seats at Allen Fieldhouse has generated anything, it’s a lot of great names for campout groups. More than 130 groups signed up for the Texas game.

Just think about the name of the group on top of the list for the Kansas-Texas game on Senior Night.

“Neil’s Atomic Fireballs.”

That’s a reference to the late Neil Dougherty, who was an assistant basketball coach under head coach Roy Williams from 1995 until 2002. He was known for handing out Atomic Fireball candies to players who did well in practice. Dougherty died last July after collapsing during a jog.

Many campout group names honor players, of course. “Tharpe Has My Heart,” is one. “The Girl With the Justin Wesley Tattoo” is another, and so is “Teahan is a One Man Boy Band.”

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Here’s how the process works.

Groups can start camping at any time, and are put on a list in the order that they show up at the fieldhouse. The closer a group is to the top of the list, the better the seats they can get. From the time that the group signs up on the list until two hours before game time, at least one member of the group must be in Allen Fieldhouse between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on the weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends.

Occasionally, groups verify that someone is there from every group by calling the roll. Any camper can call the roll at any time, and if any group isn’t present for a roll call, that group gets crossed off the list.

The most dedicated groups typically start camping as early as possible — often at 6 a.m. the day following a home game.

When more than one group shows up that early, the groups hold a lottery to determine their order, drawing ping-pong balls with numbers on them to determine the initial order. Trey Johnson, a junior from Leesburg, Va., runs that whole process, making him as close to a leader of the group as anyone.

Two hours before game time, a final roll is called. The groups then get to line up according to their order on the list and enter the fieldhouse first, before any other students or general admission ticketholders. Each group can have up to 15 members in line, and there’s no saving seats for a friend.

Then, it’s a scramble to get to the seats they want. Johnson said members of each group have their own preferences on where they like to sit.

“A lot of people want to sit behind the basket so they can get on TV,” he said.

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Some group names celebrate camping itself. There are the “Happy Campers” and the group that boasts “We Camp Harder Than We Party.” Still, some of the best names are simple, direct and to the point, and change based on whoever the Jayhawks are playing that day, like the 144th group to sign up for the Senior Night game.

“Texas = Ground Beef.”

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Filling shifts can get interesting. Brian Duerksen, a third year law student who helps run the “Neil’s Atomic Fireballs” group of law students, set up an elaborate system to determine who camps out and when.

The group uses the Internet to sign up for shifts in one-hour increments, and it’s all done on a volunteer basis. Duerksen tracks who’s signing up for shifts, and awards points. Coming to lotteries and signing up for harder-to-fill shifts (like those at 6 a.m.) earn campers bonus points. The Neil’s Atomic Fireballs group is so large that it has to form several groups. The top point-earners get to go in with the groups that are higher on the list.

If it seems like a lot of work, it is.

“KU basketball’s worth any amount of work,” Duerksen said.

That kind of attitude was probably what inspired him to attend the Kansas-Missouri game dressed as John Brown, too.

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