Written by Joe Kleinsasser Tuesday, 29 November 2011 16:09
Close your eyes and imagine the atmosphere at a small-college basketball game. What comes to mind? Crowd noise? A pep band? Raucous cheering?
That may be true for most games, but not at the traditional Silent Night game played at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., each year. Taylor, like Tabor College, is an NAIA Christian college.
If you’re wondering what such a peaceful and worshipful song like “Silent Night” has to do with a college basketball game, read on.
The game is played the last Friday of the fall semester. With classes finished and finals looming, as many as 1,500 Taylor students show up at Odle Arena clad in pajamas along with more creative costumes.
I’m not making this up.
According to Taylor sports information director Eric Smith, a former assistant coach concocted the idea for the Silent Night game more than two decades ago.
“It’s become one of the premier events on our campus, probably the athletic department’s biggest event from an overall attendance standpoint and a student interest standpoint,” Smith said. “There are not many students that are left in the dorms that night. It’s become one of the things you can’t miss as a student.”
Students begin arriving in droves about 40 minutes before tipoff.
One year, some girls arrived in pajama pants, coats and reindeer antlers. On another occasion, guys stood in matching black bathrobes next to three boys in snowmobile outfits. One student chose to wear a penguin costume, while another was dressed like a bear.
One year, students arrived in costume and created a full nativity scene in a vacant spot behind one of the baskets.
At game time, the players are introduced and the crowd turns quiet. In fact, the gym is eerily silent. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were watching two teams playing a scrimmage.
An official tosses the ball high into the air and there’s still silence. Whether the home team or visiting team makes a basket, there’s silence. In fact, there’s nothing but silence for some time.
The only sounds are squeaking tennis shoes, a bouncing ball, coaches speaking in normal tones from the sidelines, and an occasional whistle stopping play.
But then it happens, and the gym is silent no more.
Whenever Taylor scores its 10th point, the students erupt. For as long as five straight minutes, students cheer, jump, shout and rip off shirts to reveal purple and gold body paint in the midst of confetti-filled mayhem. The decibel level reaches a new level. Ear plugs are probably in order. One might think the school had just captured a national championship.
Taylor coach Paul Patterson said: “Because of the uniqueness of no noise, there’s a lot of pressure on our guys to get that 10th point. And then it gets to be kind of a normal basketball game in a great environment.”
There’s more to the Silent Night game than just enjoying a college basketball game. Last year, Patterson coached the game in his bare feet to raise funds and awareness for Samaritan’s Feet, an international organization dedicated to changing lives by distributing shoes around the world.
During halftime, students turned their energies toward their cell phones as they text a special number that donates $10—enough to buy a pair of shoes that they will put on the feet of needy children.
In the waning moments of victory, the entire Taylor crowd stood and sang the Christmas song “Silent Night” in unison.
After the game, students attend a campus-wide Christmas party where they eat cookies, listen to the school president read a Christmas story, compete in gingerbread house and cookie-decorating competitions, and watch kids from the community tell Santa what gifts they want.
Some traditions are more significant than others. And maybe Taylor’s Silent Night game isn’t KU-KSU, Tabor-Bethel or even Hillsboro-Marion. But as basketball traditions go, it doesn’t get much better than that.