Students wearing black and gold filed into the basketball court of the Retriever Activities Center through an inflatable tunnel followed by a path of cheerleaders. Then they headed over to one of the many tent stations set up around the court for necklaces, foam fingers and other goodies. A DJ played hit songs while the pep band arrived and prepared for the evening. Meanwhile, dancers and athletes stood backstage preparing themselves for the next hour and forty five minutes to follow.
All of these were signs that the annual UMBC pep rally on the Friday night of Homecoming Week was about to commence. Students of all backgrounds came together to celebrate their school spirit, Retriever pride and the UMBC athletes that work hard to represent the school both on and off the field.
Activities in the Retriever Rally included the introduction of the 2016-2017 season’s sports teams, musical and dance performances, games and challenges and contests for Retrievers, T-shirt throwing and building spirit. The rally kicked off with an incredible performance by UMBC’s drum line followed by a dunk team named Air Elite.
Air Elite, a team of three men, combined gymnastics with basketball. A small trampoline was placed on the court before a basketball hoop. Holding their own basketballs, the men ran one-by-one and jumped off of that trampoline to perform cool air tricks and nail slam dunks. Air Elite flipped, quickly moved the ball around their legs, executed cartwheels and swung from the rim of the basketball hoop. The team was a big hit and helped energize the crowd for the rest of the activities.
Games and challenges the student athletes played included Musical Chairs with the audience, True Grit and Retriever basketball players Allison McGrath, Lucrezia Costa, Nolan Gerrity and Ishmael Jabbie. A “Dress Like a Retriever” contest was also held, where the audience had to race to dress like a basketball player with the basketball teams cheering on the sidelines. There was also a basketball shooting contest, a basketball knock-out contest and two dance competitions. A chance to win $10,000 was on the line in the Half Court Shot challenge, but the student did not make the basket.
Most of the athletes were introduced between the games and challenges and appeared out of a back curtain. The first athletes of the evening to be put in the spotlight were the men’s and women’s lacrosse seniors. The seniors of both squads took the stage first, greeting the crowd with smiles, waves and free t-shirts.
The next team to enter the Retriever Rally was the women’s volleyball team led by team captain Marissa Duncan. They threw T-shirts into the crowd as well and waved to the audience as they walked on and off the court.
Both of the men’s and women’s soccer teams made an appearance. The women’s senior team captains Alexa Quaranta and Gabby Boehmer were given shout outs by the emcees and so were the men’s senior captains Bill Heavner and Gregg Hauck. It was mentioned to the audience that the women’s team currently holds a 5-1 record at this year and so was a reminder of the men’s soccer game the following day.
The climax of the Retriever Rally was the grand introduction of the men’s and women’s basketball teams of the 2016-2017 season. The lights in the basketball court darkened to reveal yellow and blue spotlights. The dancers and cheerleaders made a path for the athletes to run through and True Grit was seen standing by.
Load roars from the audience filled the air when the women’s basketball team was announced first. They ran out with pride and lined themselves up at half court from sideline to sideline. The announcer introduced each player and the coaches individually with a spotlight shining on the player being highlighted. Before the women’s team performed a choreographed dance for the audience, senior athlete Pandora Wilson and head coach Phil Stern gave one minute speeches.
“This means a lot to us. We are celebrating you know, a lot of Retriever pride and the basketball season,” said Wilson. “So we are going to be doing some very special things this year and we need your turnout… to help us. We can’t do it without your support, so we will be looking out for ‘yall in the stands. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this wonderful event.”
The men’s basketball team then showed the same amount of love when they ran out of the curtain and onto the court. The men lined up at half court from sideline to sideline to be introduced in the same way individually along with their coaches. Each athlete waved at the audience as they were highlighted before new head coach Ryan Odom shared his one minute speech with the crowd.
“We’re really excited to be here…this is my first time being a part of this,” said Odom. “I just got here in April and what I’m most proud of are these guys standing in front of me. The boys have had a great season, they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do so far.”
Odom looked back at the team and smiled. “They have the highest GPA of any men’s basketball team ever… I can’t say enough good things about them. And I’m really excited to see this and see the energy in here, because I know that it’s gonna happen. It’s gonna be game by game for the women’s team, for the men’s team.”
After the Retriever Rally concluded, the audience was told to make their way to the University Center for the Retriever Dance Marathon. Fans laughed and cheered, exited the RAC and the pep band began playing and chanting “U-M-B-C”. The dancers joined along and the athletes stuck around for a few minutes before the annual Homecoming event officially came to a close.