Heckling A Tradition At NCAA Tournament

Heckling fans are as much a part of the NCAA basketball tournament as cheerleaders or pep bands.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. The NCAA tournament is in full swing, another six team games today full of victory and celebration, despair and defeat. And, for every losing team, there's a pack of opposing fans convinced that their jeers contributed to missed free throws and flat jumpers.

NPR's fearless Mike Pesca has been spending time with the hecklers.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Last night, the Yukon Huskies fell to the Iowa State Cyclones, thanks to the play of Cyclone star Royce White and team rebounding. At least that's the reason most basketball experts would offer, but there were, perhaps, other reasons, about 25 reasons. They painted their faces, wore hockey jerseys and occasionally toted trombones. They were the Iowa State Pep Band and they were riding Yukon all night.

There was the unvariated scream technique.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE SCREAMING)

PESCA: The attempt at cross-sport confusion.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE SHOUTING)

PESCA: And the '80s hair band gambit.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE SINGING AND SHOUTING)

PESCA: The last heckle had as much staying power as Twisted Sister themselves, but the point isn't necessarily to actually affect the shooter. It's to entertain your band of brothers and sisters, which the Cyclone Pep Band acknowledge.

Do you guys think your heckling rattled the other team at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I don't know. I don't know. Does it matter?

PESCA: It worked. The Cyclones won last night, just like the Cincinnati Bearcats won today. Band member, Brian Pack (ph), and his teammates recall one glorious heckle during a key late season game. The opponent was Seton Hall. The victim, Herb Pope.

BRIAN PACK: The whole place got quiet and we all yelled, Herb, right as he was about to release the ball and he missed (unintelligible) and he glared right at us at the end. It was hilarious.

PESCA: During home games, bands often spur on crowds, but here in the NCAA tournament, where some teams have small cheering sections and arenas are generally cavernous, the band often is heckle central. Even then, says Bearcat band member Jay Keller (ph), the tournament's organizer puts a damper on the damage done.

JAY KELLER: Like, it's hard to do anything because, like, the NCAA staff keeps us from, like, standing up and doing what we normally do.

PESCA: Which is to stand on seats, wave their instruments, release feral geese into the arena - OK. No geese, but it does bring up the question. Is this poor sportsmanship? Which brings up the answer, no. Of course, there are some boundaries that should not be crossed, but for the most part, yelling, Herb, isn't a big insult unless the guy is not named Herb.

The players themselves usually evince a nonchalance, but Iowa State star Royce White allows, heckling can work.

ROYCE WHITE: The first game down in Austin, Texas and I air-balled a free throw and then they gave me a lot about it and then I air-balled another free throw and, you know, my mind just kind of got away from, you know, what I need to be focused on.

PESCA: And just to show that the taunter can become the taunted, consider the source of those jeers that shook up White. They came from the Texas Longhorns. And who did the Cinci band aim their Bearcat calls at this afternoon? The Texas Longhorns, who lost the game. It is the circle of grief.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, Nashville, Tennessee.

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