By Murray Evans
NORMAN, Okla. (Dec. 5, 2013) – Like everyone else at McCasland Field House on Nov. 4, Sherri Coale heard Oklahoma Christian’s loud, boisterous fan section when the Eagles faced Oklahoma in an exhibition game. It was impossible not to.
As OC raced to a 41-38 halftime lead and played the Sooners tough before eventually falling 88-76, the Eagles’ fans drowned out not only their counterparts from Oklahoma, but also the OU band. The OC fans’ performance brought recognition on Twitter from many in the arena, including OU football player Jalen Saunders.
It also reminded Coale, OU’s women’s basketball coach of her days as a point guard for the Lady Eagles from 1983-1987, which she said was “such a special experience.”
“And it made me proud,” she said, “proud of the tradition of support and encouragement and passion that continues at OC still, and I just wanted to honor that in some way. I want those students to know what a vital role they play in the heartbeat of their institution. It's a privilege to be a part of the Oklahoma Christian family.”
It’s a family that extends over decades and through generations, which gave Coale an admittedly offbeat idea that will come to fruition on Sunday, when two busloads full of OC students – 114 in all – will travel from far north Oklahoma City to Norman to cheer on Coale’s 17th-ranked Sooners when they host No. 2-ranked Duke in one of OU’s biggest games of the season.
“It’s cool for our students to get to do that,” said Neil Arter, OC’s vice president for student life and dean of students – and a former classmate of Coale’s in the 1980s. “There’s not a person at OC who doesn’t know about coach Coale. Even though most of our students don’t know coach Coale, they want to do stuff with her. It’s cool for them to honor her that way.”
Coale is in her 19th season as the Sooners’ coach, but she’s always remained close to her alma mater. The coach who recruited her to OC, Max Dobson, just retired from teaching this past April and the coach who guided Coale her last two seasons as a player, Stephanie Findley, still is the Lady Eagles’ coach. Also, Dan Hays – who started coaching OC’s men’s team at the same time Coale arrived on campus and allowed her to watch his team’s practices – remains as the Eagles’ coach.
Coale has made it a regular practice to schedule the Lady Eagles for exhibition games and when OC applied for NCAA Division II membership in 2012, Coale narrated the video the university sent to the NCAA membership committee.
It’s not unusual for Coale to contact Hays, but when she did so this week, she had an unusual request.
“She said, ‘This is a crazy idea, but…’” Hays said. “She wanted to know if our students would come cheer for the Sooners.”
Coale wanted as much noise and energy as possible in Lloyd Noble Arena when the Sooners played Duke and knew OC’s fans would be a major asset on both counts. Coale said she’d provide the tickets and the bus to transport the OC student to Norman if OC could handle the signups.
Hays called Arter, who contacted OC senior Ben Meaders. Meaders, from Portland, Ore., has in recent years led a revival of the fan section at OC basketball games, returning the section to one of the rowdiest in Oklahoma small-college circles.
Meaders was pumped and immediately went and woke up a good friend, senior Josh Toney of Wewoka.
“We’re going pro!” Meaders told him. When Toney asked him what was going on, Meaders explained they’d been asked to come cheer for the Sooners and he quickly had his first recruit.
A signup sheet posted on Meaders’ Facebook page had 65 signatures within about 2½ hours. Arter quickly arranged for another bus, giving 114 students the opportunity to make the trip, and the seats quickly were filled.
“I didn’t expect that,” Meaders said. “Neil didn’t either. It’s just awesome.”
So on Sunday afternoon, the buses will pick the students up outside the Eagles’ Nest for the trip down Interstate 35. Coale will provide each student the same pregame meal she eats – Cheetos and a Mountain Dew. She’s also recorded a message that will be played in each bus.
Once at the arena, the students (along with all the other fans at the game) will find OU shirts on their seats as the Sooners have asked their supporters to “crimson out” the arena. Meaders said he hopes Coale makes time to stop by before or after the game to visit the OC group.
Hays described the Eagles’ fan group as “ole school” and said they remind him “of how it used to be. The Eagles’ Nest is back rocking. It is great that they want to support one of our great OC alums, Sherri Coale and the Sooner women. I plan to be there with him in Norman.”
Meaders thinks the chants that caught everyone’s attention when the Eagles played OU in the men’s exhibition game will translate well to Sunday’s game, “because ‘OC’ becomes ‘OU’ pretty easily. ‘Eagles’ and ‘Sooners’ have the same number of syllables,” he said. “We want to get a hold of the Ruf Nex (an OU student-led spirit group) and make sure we’re not stepping on their toes and with their permission, we’ll basically import all of our cheers into their game.”
The way Meaders figures it, “it’s a win-win for everyone. OU gets to say, ‘Our coach is sticking to her roots and helping out her alma mater.’ For us, it’s a validation of what we’ve been doing. The biggest school in the state saw our work at that game and said we need to get that here. They reached out and asked us for help.
“Plus, we get to cheer against a team that’s supported by the Cameron Crazies. Cameron (Fieldhouse, Duke’s home court) is known for being the best place in the country for playing college basketball and they have the best fan section anywhere. To be compared to them is an honor.”
At the end of every OU game, players and fans sing the “OU Chant,” win or lose. Meaders said that the OC students at the game will support the Sooners through the end of that song. Then they’ll have a special treat for Coale.
“I think our section will sing our alma mater after that,” he said. “That will be our shout out to her.”