“I hope people can understand all the spamming,” Cheng Ho laughs.
If you were like me—a recipient of the approximately 50,000 Facebook messages from the senior running back on the football team—you can probably just barely forgive him for flooding your inbox last week.
But had it not been for Ho’s persistence, I most likely would have missed the chance to register for a ticket to the men’s basketball game against Princeton last Friday night.
I’m glad I didn’t.
As a member of the Crimson Sports Board for most of my college career, I have attended my fair share of Harvard sports games. Many of those have come in Lavietes Pavilion, the diminutive (and usually half-empty) home of Harvard basketball.
However, the buzz around campus in the days leading up to Friday night’s contest led me to believe that this one might be different.
For perhaps the first time in its history, the basketball team was legitimately good—and the student body had begun to take notice. With yet another win at Boston College and a six-point loss to then-No. 13 UConn, the Crimson had turned heads both inside and outside of Cambridge. Having a pro prospect in co-captain Jeremy Lin, who has been featured in ESPN and Sports Illustrated, didn’t hurt its profile either.
I arrived at the game about 30 minutes before tip-off, and took my seat towards the back of a student section that was already mostly filled.
It was immediately obvious that the Facebook messages had succeeded not only in bringing people to the game, but also in disseminating the “white-out” theme. (My roommate—one of just a handful of students who hadn’t gotten the memo—was the target of some light-hearted jeers for wearing grey.)
Getting the crowd to dress in white was just one of many ideas brought to bear by Ho and a few of his football teammates. Equipped with a whiteboard to lead chants and enough newspaper to fill a room in Dunster for the crowd to read when the Princeton starters were being announced, Ho and company led the raucous student section from start to finish.
Facing the crowd from the front row of the bleachers, Ho’s smile was a mile wide. After all, he had been planning this day since October.
Ho is close friends with some of the players on the basketball team and had attended many games in Lavietes. Like me, he had consistently been underwhelmed by the atmosphere.
But Harvard’s unprecedented 12-3 start represented the perfect opportunity for change.
“The basketball team is having such a special season, and creating a home court advantage could have a huge influence,” Ho says. “Why not rally around the team to develop school spirit?”
So Ho returned early from winter break to meet with Crimson head coach Tommy Amaker and representatives from the Athletic Department. They discussed options for engaging the student body and created a plan to increase turnout at games.