Wildcat fans go out in crazy costumes to end the last game in arena

Student Colors
Senior class students gather on the court to take their final picture in Welsh-Ryan Arena. (Alexis Wainwright /MEDILL)

By Alexis Wainwright

Students and fans said goodbye to one of the homes for Northwestern University’s sports on Sunday as Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston hosted its last game and long-planned renovations will soon begin.

Part of the farewell: crazy costumes for the regular basketball season home finale.

Two fans stole the show with their onesies. “We’re two goofy guys just trying to have fun at the game,” said Matt Zients, a first-year student at Northwestern. Zients had never worn a costume to a basketball game until that final game. (See photo below).

Students typically wear face paint, school colors and anything with the words “Wildcats” or “Northwestern” on it, but for this weekend there was cause for more creativity.

“This is to celebrate the last game here at Welsh-Ryan, our last game of this historic season,” said freshman Jeremy Lamstein, seen below with Zients. “We figured we go all out, have some fun with it.”

Crazy Costumes part 1
Two first-year students share a crazy costume idea for their final game of the season. From left to right: Matt Zients and Jeremey Lamstein.(Alexis Wainwright/ MEDILL).

The bright colors stood out in the arena, packed with 8,100 fans, many wearing purple or gold.

Senior Drew Floyd knew exactly what he had to do for his last game. Floyd and his group of friends showed up in four different colorful, animal onesies. Each outfit had a tail and a hood to wear on their head, complete with ears, and decorative faces. (See picture below)

“It’s a do or die. It’s a now or never, if we were going to do it this had to be the game to do it,” said Floyd.

“We had the onesies and we decided pretty early in the year that we would all wear them together to a game,” said Floyd. “This is the first game we were going to all come together. It’s been in the works for awhile but it’s finally executed tonight.”

Crazy Costumes part 2
Friends gathered together for a picture during their final game at Welsh-Ryan Arena as students. From left to right: Eric Williams, Drew Floyd, Faye Zhang, and Sarah Garlick. (Alexis Wainwright/ MEDILL)

The $110 million arena renovation will start soon and is expected to be finished in Fall 2018. Games next season at Allstate Arena in Rosemont.

Renovations include:

  • New seating throughout the arena, with chair seats replacing existing wooden bleachers.
  • State-of-the-art-lighting, audio and video.
  • New concession area with twice as many point-of–sale stations, as well as new food and drinks.
  • A new ticket office.
  • New offices and locker rooms for men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball.
  • Expansion of usable court space in both the main arena and field house.
  • Premium seating areas and expansion of the N-Club.
  • Improved accessibility for mobility-impaired, with five new elevators.
  • Expanding the building lobby by nearly 50 percent
  • New restrooms, doubling the number of toilets.

One senior has built a legacy with his costume and tried to hold emotion back as the buzzer went off at the last game. The famous “Phantom of the Opera” as he is known has been at the Northwestern games for four years.

Jake Shaefer, Northwestern University's Superfan
Senior Jake Shaefer dresses in a purple-themed Phantom of the Opera attire for all Northwestern home basketball games. (Devin Emory/MEDILL).

“It’s about being seen because the program didn’t have a lot of visibility before this in previous events,” said Jake Schaefer “It’s really exciting and we want to get people excited, and they can be like ‘Hey there’s that kid from the basketball games.’ ”

Schaefer is a senior but has been in stands since his freshman year and began with part of his costume in 2013 when head coach Chris Collins had his first game with Northwestern. His costume slowly evolved since then from a funny hat to the purple phantom.

“I think this naturally comes with the team winning, the culture is definitely changing.” Schaefer said.

The men’s team lost on Sunday to Purdue to end the regular home season. Fans, wanting to make the day special, stormed onto the court after the game and took pictures on the floor.

Huddled up center-court on top of the purple N, students were joined by their senior classmates and Northwestern players Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn.

The Wildcats could make school history if they make it to the 2017 NCAA Tournament. This would be the Wildcats first appearance. The team won a program record 21 games this season. Some students said they plan to travel with the team as they make history.

The selection for the tournament game will be announced on Sunday.

“I am going and I’ll probably bring my outfit,” said Eric Willms, who was in a grey panda-like onesie at the final home game.

Willms hopes the trend continues with the costumes after he graduates. “We had a couple other people like the Shark, Speedo guy, and a couple other big trends,” Willms said. “Hopefully we get the whole crowd doing it.”

Photo at the top: Senior class students gather on the court to take their final picture in Welsh-Ryan Arena. (Alexis Wainwright/MEDILL)