Through Davis Searcy’s teen years growing up in Bethel, he was a regular at East Carolina basketball games. When he was in high school, he drove himself to nearly every home game, and he used to admire the spirit and the impact of the Minges Maniacs.
Searcy remembers a time when the Maniacs created a stifling lower level presence. They were loud, obnoxious and organized – and visiting teams were affected. As long ago as 2007, when ECU was hosting Conference USA foes like Marquette and Louisville in Minges, the arena had a reputation throughout the conference, with then-Marquette coach Tom Crean saying, “My condolences go out to the teams who have not been there yet.”
When Searcy enrolled at ECU as a freshman in 2015, he brought his enthusiasm for Pirate basketball and officially became a Maniac, but the group’s numbers have been down recently, their influence milder.
The ECU home basketball season tips off on November 12, and Searcy, now a junior and president of the Maniacs, is determined to help build a group that will exceed the earlier glory days. The intimacy of Minges Coliseum lends itself perfectly to a spirited student section, and the intensity of the Maniacs effect will increase this season when they are all concentrated on one side of the lower level, said Greg Herring, ECU’s assistant athletic director for marketing and fan engagement.
The new seating arrangement, coupled with Searcy’s efforts to build enthusiasm for the Maniacs’ in 2017-18, will give Jeff Lebo and company a home-court boost before the first jump shot is even attempted. It might not rival the history and biting creativity of the Cameron Crazies or the size of Michigan State’s Izzone (4,000 strong), but if the Pirates can add some early wins to the equation, the Minges crowd has the potential to become a legitimate Sixth Man.
“That’s one we would like to be, because we have the same kind of stadium,” Searcy said of the legendary Cameron student section. “You can pack it. This year we have a bunch of home games, and once we hopefully get winning, people will want to jump on board.”
In preparation for the season, Searcy has stepped up the Maniacs’ marketing efforts – posting frequently on Twitter and Instagram and collecting money for an initial Minges Maniacs T-shirt order to increase the group’s visibility in the stands. He was hoping to order 30 shirts in advance of the Coppin State game, but by the middle of this week that number had already increased to 50. At least half of those fans are residents in Legacy Hall, where Searcy is both a resident assistant and a hardcore Maniacs recruiter.
The decision to consolidate the Maniacs and other student fans on one side of the lower level should boost their volume, Herring said, and it will also provide more close-to-the-action seats for others in the Pirate Nation. The ECU marketing and sales staffers have been focusing on putting fans in the seats and crafting some special touches that will improve the experience for those who make the trip.
Some of the new basketball marketing touches have yet to be unveiled, Herring said, but a new courtside emcee will serve as a host for the games – and the events during time-outs – to build excitement within the arena.
Fans will also notice more score updates from other basketball games happening around the country and a new emphasis on technology that allows stat-happy fans to keep up with the Pirates’ numbers in real time on their phones.
ECU’s first hardwood action will unfold in Chapel Hill on November 5 when the Pirates join UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro and UNC-Wilmington in an exhibition to raise money for hurricane relief.
Between their official season opener on November 12 and New Year’s Day, ECU will play 11 of its 13 games in Minges. The concentration of home games will provide the burgeoning Maniacs – and local fans that are eager for hoops – ample opportunity to make visiting coaches wish for an alternative place to play.