Column: A Look at Every Corner of Gentile Arena

Sports editor Griffin Krueger reflects on a season spent in Gentile, and the people who made the arena “electric.”

Another year of basketball in Loyola’s Gentile Arena has come and gone. This season, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work as the men’s basketball beat writer for The Phoenix and with every passing game, I became increasingly engulfed in the community fostered by the teams who call “The Joe” home. 

Although Gentile seats just under 4,500 people, it has become one of the loudest and most rowdy settings for college basketball with some of the most passionate fans in the country. 

Fueled by the men’s basketball team’s remarkable turnaround — going from dead last in the Atlantic 10 a year ago to cutting down the nets as Co-Regular Season Champions this past weekend — Gentile has been rocking all season. 

The last three games of the regular season were all sold out and a national audience was given the chance to see the remarkable atmosphere I’ve been experiencing all year as the team took down No. 21 Dayton University live on ESPN2 March 1. 

Nick Neumayer, who works as the Loyola basketball beat writer for NBC Sports Chicago, became my compatriot throughout the season. At each game, we were seated next to each other on press row and navigated post-game press conferences together. 

Neumayer, a third-year student majoring in journalism, said it was always going to be an adjustment when the team made the jump from the Missouri Valley Conference to the A-10 but things have come together in the squads second year in the league. 

“I think now we’re starting to see the offense really starting to click, a lot less turnovers per game,” Nuemayer said. “I think this team has finally adjusted to Drew Valentine’s style of coaching and both offense and defense are running like they’re designed to.”

Nuemayer’s analysis rings true as head coach Drew Valentine’s squad has finished the regular season on a tear going 17-3 in their last 20 games. 

Before any players appear and the excitement starts up however, it’s quiet in Gentile. As I’m finding my place at the media table and getting everything set to take notes on all the action and students begin filing in, the Band of Wolves pipes up and launches into their always stellar performance. 

By putting their spin on memorable hits like “Stacy’s Mom” and “Crazy Train” and taunting the opposing team over missed free throws, the Band of Wolves are an integral part of the atmosphere in Gentile. 

Anna Berg, a graduate student studying criminal justice, has played flute in the Band of Wolves for five years. She said it has been one of the highlights of her college career. 

“Gentile is a great environment, I know Drew and Allison [Guth] use this word but I think truly ‘electric’ is a good word for it,” Berg said. “When you get The Pack in, you’ve got the fans, the environment is just fantastic and it isn’t quite the same when you’re just a spectator and you aren’t fully involved in it.”

Gradually, the Pack starts to fill in the student section, with the most dedicated students forming a line in the Damen Student Center hours before the doors open. Although I may very well have sustained some hearing damage sitting just inches from the student section, I can tell you from first-hand experience they make their presence known. 

The Pack stays standing for the entire game, explodes with energy at every major Loyola basket and throws harsh jeers at opposing players. Second-year Liz Apell, a marketing and sports management major, has been in the front row at nearly every home game this season. She said the new class of first-years have been a key factor in the Pack’s contribution to the Gentile atmosphere.

“I love Gentile,” Apell said. “I’m really sad to see all of our seniors go, but I’m really happy and glad to see our program grow. I know we have a lot of good recruits coming in, I just know that next season might be better than this one and we’re just gonna keep going.” 

Soon, the rest of the arena begins filling up as the albeit quieter but still passionate non-student fans find their seats. Season ticket holder Jerry Bjurman — class of 1975 — came to his first Loyola basketball game in 1969. Bjurman, who missed just two games this season, said the feeling in Gentile is radically different than it has been in past decades.

“We used to come to the games and there used to be a thousand of us max, and 10 students sat under the basket and that was it,” he said. “We’ve come so far and for me the fun is when you see the students coming to the game and enjoying themselves. I still get together with my friends from Loyola after 50-some years and we still talk about games that we went to and hopefully they’ll remember the same.”

Keeping the show on track is Gentile Arena’s emcee Lainey O’Boyle who welcomes fans to the arena and keeps the crowd up to date on what’s going on in the arena during halftime and timeouts. 

As her second and final season as emcee came to a close, O’Boyle, a fourth-year neuroscience major, said the job has been one of her favorite things she’s done at Loyola and the community of people she works with is “lovely.”

“Having the ability to be a part of something bigger while still being able to interact with the fans and the community has been the biggest dream come true,” she said. 

Before each and every game, a hush falls over the arena as 104-year-old Sister Jean Dolores Jean Schmidt, BVM — chaplain of the men’s basketball team — delivers her pre-game prayer in which she asks God that the referees call the game with equity, that all players are protected from injury and, of course, that at the end of the game “the scoreboard indicates a big W for the Ramblers.”

She said Valentine and the team have done wonders adapting to their new conference without breaking from the Loyola culture. Schmidt thanked the seniors playing in their last game at Gentile for everything they have done for the program. 

“All you students, thanks for coming all year, you helped us so much because you are the support we needed,” Schmidt said. “We wish we could bottle you up and send you along to other games and that would help us there, too. God bless all of you.”

Basketball games in Gentile are one of the highlights of the Loyola experience, and I will be forever grateful that for this season, however small, I got to play a role in the excitement.

Featured image by Austin Hojdar | The Phoenix

Griffin Krueger

Griffin Krueger

Griffin Krueger is the Editor-in-Chief of The Phoenix. He began working for The Phoenix during his first week at Loyola and previously served as Assistant News Editor and Sports Editor. Krueger is a fourth-year Political Science major with minors in Economics and History. In his free time he enjoys reading and exploring the city on his bike.
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