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Group photo of The Herd with members of the PFW men's basketball team.

The Herd roars during Arizona basketball road trip

By Blake Sebring

December 6, 2023

When Purdue University Fort Wayne men’s basketball coach Jon Coffman mentioned the idea in August, he thought The Herd traveling with his team would benefit his players. Turns out that members of PFW’s athletics student cheering section benefitted even more.

A group of 14 Mastodon maniacs traveled to Glendale, Arizona, from Nov. 16 to 19 to cheer on Coffman’s squad at the Arizona Tip-Off. The trip was paid for by the Student Government Association’s Travel Committee and the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Jacob Allard, fan engagement and marketing coordinator for the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, serves as the group’s advisor and drove the 15-passenger van in Arizona.

The best part? The Mastodons beat Northern Arizona 77–67 on Nov. 17 and South Dakota 93–81 on Nov. 18 to win the tournament title. In recognition of the support, players rushed to hug their fans after both victories.

“The basketball players seemed genuinely happy and appreciative that The Herd came all the way out to Arizona to cheer them on,” said junior Macy Schwarzkopf. “After both games, the players came running over and high-fived and celebrated with us. Coach Coffman came up to every single Herd member after winning the tournament, and shook each of our hands and thanked us for coming out.”

When The Herd members walked into Diamond Desert Arena just before the first game and started cheering, the Dons looked up in surprise. The fan club only got louder after asking the ushers if they could move into some open seats on the floor. The Herd sat behind the PFW bench for the opener and behind the visiting bench for the championship game.

“The ushers and workers loved us because we brought so much energy,” said junior Josiah Beck, the group’s president. “They let us move down because it made the other fans enjoy the game that much more due to the energy and chants.”

The Herd formed last year and attended home games for various PFW teams and a couple road contests with the women’s basketball team. The members’ primary goal was to show their devotion to the university and demonstrate their love for being Mastodons. Mission accomplished.

“My favorite part of the trip was cheering for our team,” said junior T.J. Swihart. “I know it sounds cheesy and cliché, but this was the most organized and coordinated The Herd has ever been at a game, and it was so satisfying for us all to be on the exact same page for both games.”

Part of that credit goes to junior Nevayah Deck, the group’s recruiting coordinator and now leader of the cheers. She spent extra time coordinating the group’s actions during the games.

“It was the connection I felt with everyone,” she said. “We were a team, and the vibes were immaculate. I felt like we were all one huge family. Also, the connection with the basketball team was amazing. The love and support that they showed us was an amazing feeling.”

As freshman Kennedy Mahoro said, after the games, everyone’s voices sounded so hoarse it was like they’d all been smoking for 40 years. Several members said they felt like they had a positive impact on the games’ outcomes, especially since the announced attendance was 1,028 for the first game and 1,211 for the second game, meaning determined Herd members could make some noticeable noise.

“As a freshman, I knew about The Herd, but did not really know their members as well as I would like to,” Mahoro said. “But enjoying food with them allowed me to get to really know them at a much deeper level. I feel much more connected to them after the trip.”

There are no immediate plans to make similar long-distance trips, but now members of the group know what is possible.

“I genuinely love PFW and want others to be proud to be a Don, too,” Beck said. “I think one way I can help that in my position is to create a space at the games that people will miss out on if they don’t go. A lot like this trip, everyone that went loves being a Mastodon.”

To learn more about joining The Herd, contact [email protected].