A near-capacity crowd of 2,410 fans squeezed into John J. Lee Amphitheater last Saturday night to see the men’s basketball team defeat Penn 78-60 in what was arguably the Elis’ best game of the season. And while the number of fans didn’t compare to a Duke or Kansas game, three of Yale’s most notorious supporters were there — and they found a target.
The Quaker marching band had a middle-aged man playing the drums.
“He probably didn’t do anything wrong, and, yes, he’ll probably now have a serious mid-life crisis, but the real question isn’t whether we’re going to hell or not,” Eben Smith ’05 said. “It’s why at a school the size of Penn couldn’t they find someone else to bang a drum.”
Smith, Ryan Raybould ’05 and Andrew Dealy ’05 are among Yale’s most infamous basketball fans. The trio has earned a reputation as some of the most vicious hecklers in the league, and they have made a number of enemies among opposing teams’ coaching staffs, players and fans.
Forward Sam Kaplan ’07 said that Raybould, Dealy and Smith give Yale an edge at home.
“Our fans are definitely some of the best I have been associated with and definitely the best in league.” Kaplan said. “From the crazy costumes to finding out about players through thefacebook.com and the crazy chants, they have been a tremendous advantage for us. We haven’t been tortured on the road like some of our opponents have been when they have come to play us.”
In their first game as Yale hecklers, Raybould, Dealy and Smith were all ejected from Yale’s home game against Brown.
“Having had a father who was regularly kicked out of my high school basketball games, this was nothing new to my family,” Smith said.
In the past two seasons, Yale has had an Ivy home record of 9-2 compared to 3-8 on the road. Yale players agreed that the “heckling team,” as Raybould calls them, has a major impact on this statistic.
“Our home court advantage could be defined by these fans,” guard Eric Flato ’08 said. “They bring so much energy, and I even think they are able to get in the minds of the other team. They are a huge part of our home-court advantage.”
The proximity of the fans to the players also aids the fans’ ability to hassle players, as the home bleachers come right up to the court.
“There is no question, our fans are the best,” captain Alex Gamboa ’05 said. “Wake Forest was pretty insane, and their fans were creative and funny, but our fans are right on the court. They are literally right in the opponent’s face, and you can hear specific things said. They’re awesome.”
Even opposing head coaches agree that Yale has some talented fanatics.
“Our kids get very pumped to play here because they know that the fans are really into it,” Brown head basketball coach Glenn Miller said. “It’s hard to keep your focus here because it is so noisy, but it’s a great environment for college basketball. I’d like to see more fan-base support like this around the entire league.”
Raybould and Dealy, who finished up their final season on the men’s varsity soccer team in 2004, began their taunting days when they traveled to support their close friends, Gamboa and forward Mark Lovett ’05, at away games. Smith, Dealy’s freshman year hall-mate, soon joined in, and the three have been terrorizing teams ever since.
“It just kind of happened by chance,” Raybould said. “We were all college basketball fans and all friends; it sort of spiraled from there.”
The Yale hecklers target all aspects of an opponent, including the players, coaches, cheerleaders, officials, fans and even band members. The three members of this unique group even concentrate on different aspects of the game to make sure they cover everything.
“My favorite targets are the assistant coaches,” Dealy said. “I like heckling coaches because they’re easy targets, and they’re not used to the abuse. I saw that the assistant coach of our soccer team, Zachary Samol, couldn’t take being heckled, and I figured, hey, maybe some other assistant coaches are just as bipolar.”
Dealy said his biggest success has been with Columbia assistant coach Mike Bramucci, who had to be escorted to the Columbia bus last season to prevent any confrontations between him and the Yale hecklers.
Raybould said that their efforts have not gone unnoticed by opposing teams.
“I have heard from opposing players that it is tough to play at Yale,” Raybould said. “I like to think that we are responsible for helping create that environment.”
Raybould and his crew recently recruited new members to increase the opposing team’s level of frustration. Tony Bellino ’05 is one of the newer members who has made a significant contribution this season.
“Tony has been a great addition to the heckling team,” Raybould said. “Tony is responsible for handling residuals — opposing fans, band members, parents, dirty old men, etc.”
Whether or not the Yale hecklers possess tact or qualities of good sportsmanship, their dedication to their art is undeinable.
“It’s hard to find 10 guys at any other Ivy that wait for 30 minutes in 10-degree weather just to get a few parting shots as the opposing team boards the bus,” Dealy said. “Usually they will give us a line like ‘Don’t you guys have anything better to do?’ to which we reply, ‘Nope, we have no lives.'”