At first, the fans were quiet at Thursday night's home basketball game at Ocean City High School–then Raider Nation began to show up. The party had begun.
Chanting, clapping and cheering, the group of fans pushed their classmates to a narrow 50-44 victory over Absegami.
While the cheerleaders chanted “Let’s go Raiders,” Raider Nation responded with a taunt to the other team: “You can’t make it.”
The enthusiasm and antics of Raider Nation fans are what make any weekday game exciting. Raider Nation draws seniors to games through mass texts and Facebook messaging from organizers Ty Jackson, Ryan Heckler and Jimmy O’Connor.
“Raider Nation is crazy and rowdy,” Jackson and Heckler agreed. “We come for the love of basketball and to support our classmates.”
While Raider Nation can be a bit harsh to opposing teams, the group is made up of polite students who like to have a good time. Not once has there been a problem involving authorities that would have major consequences.
So what drove the high school seniors to morph this group of students into screaming die-hard fans? School spirit and support for their peers, of course.
Raider Nation was created last year by now-graduated Chris Curran, Frank Unger and Sean Bryce. In its first year, Raider Nation was the craziest event that hit Ocean City High School. T-shirts were created both years reading “The CAL Stops Here” on the back with a star above Ocean City on a map of New Jersey.
All three of this year's Raider Nation leaders are seniors involved with sports themselves. Jackson is a former football player and current crew coxswain; Heckler played soccer; and O’Connor is no stranger to the media for his track-and-field achievements.
When the students were informed of a contest titled “Craziest Fan of the Week”, they were more than happy.
“It could be anyone. I am definitely going to try to win it,” Jackson announced.
This week’s title was given to O’Connor, who showed up to the game clad in a Scooby Doo Costume with his Raider Nation shirt over it. Possibly Raider Nation’s friendly mascot had been found.
But what about the remaining weeks of the contest? Senior Cody Barr believes she will continue to win week-after-week from now on.
“I can definitely win that. Raider Nation is crazy, high spirited and exciting,” Barr said, which are words that are likely to describe her personality as well. “I enjoy the game and the fans. Raider Nation is ... the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
“Yes, it is that awesome,” states Jake Krutsick, a senior and Cody’s partner in crime. The pair cheered on with the others for the whole game.
Raider Nation seems like it is based around the senior class, but underclassmen participate as well. Three freshmen girls, Paige Manjrawali, Cierra Granger and April Stein agree that it “makes the game exciting.” Manjrawali and Stein play girls freshmen basketball and wish fans similar to Raider Nation would cheer them on. Although they come to watch the actual game, they enjoy the energy from the crowd.
With more games in the upcoming week, Raider Nation will practice for the mother of all games, the showdown against long-time rival Mainland Regional High School 6 p.m. Jan. 24 at Ocean City.
Check out Raider Nation at any home game to experience a crowd that is most unique and a future classic.