Whether it was the acoustics of the room or simply the pizza-inspired energy, the mix of men’s soccer players and the BU Zoo didn’t share a quiet moment on Monday night.
The meeting marked the first between fans and athletes, but the T-shirts exchanged promised it wouldn’t be the last. “Tradition starts now” served as the night’s motto, and the group followed up with promises of mixers and more pizza.
“This is the first time we met, hopefully the next time will be better,” said Brenda Gorelik, the Zoo secretary and a junior majoring in financial economics. “This is just the beginning.”
The idea for the meeting came together after a season of merged efforts between the Zoo and another student group, the Hooligans. While the Zoo has traditionally stuck to basketball games, the group collaborated with the Hooligans this season to bolster the support and excitement at soccer games.
The Zoo’s establishment at Binghamton University and the Hooligans’ experience in the stands has created a unique relationship. Ben Sachs, Zoo co-president and a sophomore majoring in accounting, can be held responsible for it.
“The Hooligans, through [my suitemate], met with me and we established a relationship where the Zoo right now has the SA charter and the budget and a lot of recognition with the school … and the Hooligans have all the experience,” he said. “So we figured both were able to help each other in different ways.”
“I see this being something special, with the Zoo and the Hooligans trying to form more than an alliance,” Binghamton men’s soccer head coach Paul Marco said. “We just need one group. And I’d like to see [our student-fan population] get to 800 strong again.”
Despite the meeting being the first of its kind, jersey numbers were connected with faces and names with voices in a seamless manner.
“It’s nice to meet the people that we cheer for,” Gorelik said. “So now we know next time to look out for them.”
“And we can look out for you!” freshman goalkeeper Robert Moewes added.
It’ll be a change, adding a new connection that transcends simply cheering for names read off the roster.
“One of the things that I wanted to do was be able to have the soccer players, who are athletes and completely lead a different life from the students, meet the students who are cheering for them,” he said. “To establish that relationship where you actually feel that emotional connection for the players that you’re cheering for … Whether it’s on the field or in school, we’re all there to support each other. And that’s what the Zoo’s all about, is unity overall.”
In a season riddled with injuries and hard-fought losses, the team’s spirit has never faltered. According to senior back Robbie Hughes, the 12th man has been as big as anything for the Bearcats in 2013.
“We absolutely love the BU Zoo and the Hooligans, and the collaboration of both groups has been amazing this year,” Hughes said. “Especially in the overtime fixtures, when they start making a lot of noise, they give you your legs back.”
Both groups were eager to go beyond the formalities of exchanging T-shirts and thank-yous, forging relationships deeper than fan and player.
“It’s nice because now they’re not just our fans in the stands, they’re kind of like our friends and it’s always nice to see a friendly face in the crowd to help your nerves, and it helps you play better,” Hughes said.
And the Zoo and Hooligans derived their own benefit as well, able to engage the players about what works and what doesn’t.
“We were able to ask them which cheers they like the most, which is good for us for future references,” Gorelik said.
With the meeting wrapping to a close and all the attendees bearing T-shirts as tokens of their night, the Bearcats, both the athletes and the students, looked to the future: Would they eat pizza, Moe’s Southwest Grill or Chipotle during their next meeting?