Many times this season head coach Amaka “Mox” Agugua-Hamilton has referred to the home faithful at JQH Arena as the Missouri State Lady Bears “sixth-man”.
And it could be argued the No. 17 nationally-ranked Lady Bears are one of the toughest teams to beat at home in the country. Missouri State has a perfect 13-0 record at JQH this season, and their home-dominance is a big reason why they have dreams of hosting the NCAA Tournament in March.
Home attendance numbers are up drastically from recent seasons. The team is on pace to finish the season with 42,179 fans this season — the highest mark since 2015-16 when home attendance was at 47,594.
“With the history of this place and back in Hammons Student Center days, this community loves basketball and they love the Lady Bears,” Mox said. “To see them get behind the team and the buzz around town — it’s been awesome to be apart of that.
“It means a lot to our players and it’s really helped us get over the hump in some games. Maybe the energy is low and the crowd gets into it. We’ve even had a bus load of people come on the road with us (this season) and it has sparked us.”
While the community is behind the women’s basketball program, why aren’t the students bought in to the Lady Bears?
The Lady Bears have proven to be far and away the best team on campus and yet game after game hardly any students are in attendance.
Chad Cox, a graduate student at Missouri State and a first-time season-ticket holder, said he believes there’s a stigma around women’s sports that makes attendance by someone of his age a “joke”.
“I don’t understand that logic at all,” Cox said.
Senior Adam Boonshaft is the president of Maroon Madness, which is the only official spirit organization of Missouri State athletics. He attributed the lack of student attendance to students not knowing about the Lady Bears and not knowing which games are free.
Boonshaft assists with ticket tabling for Missouri State basketball, and he said students are often surprised to find games are free.
“The university might want to advertise that more,” Boonshaft said. “There was also a lot of hype surrounding the men’s team and the university focused more on that, and when their season didn’t go as planned a lot of students didn’t care about any basketball at Missouri State.
“I also understand that some students don’t enjoy watching basketball and it’s a tough sell to convince them to spend two plus hours at the arena.”
Cox said lowered student attendance started with former head coach Nyla Milleson, who was at the helm from 2007-2013 — even though the team has produced a very entertaining product.
In Milleson’s first season, the home attendance was at 72,218 and dropped significantly to 36,479 by the time she was fired in March 2013.
“My family has been season-ticket holders since before I was born in 1994,” Cox said. “I can remember attending games with large student attendance back in Hammons Student Center. I specifically remember a student-led group under the nickname “Abe’s Army” for one of our former head coaches Katie Abrahamson-Henderson and haven’t seen anything replicated like that since.
“It’s honestly kind of frustrating to see an empty student section every single game.”
Senior environmental plant science major Will Edmondson said he doesn’t understand why students haven’t bought in and shown up to the Lady Bears games.
“They push harder than any team I’ve ever seen,” Edmondson said. “Something I love about them is that they’re definitely a family and all-in together. They love each other. They love the fans and you can see that at every game.
“I wish students would see what they’re doing and buy-in. The Lady Bears are my favorite team to watch on-campus.”
Another reason students haven’t perhaps bought in to the Lady Bears is due to a lack of social media push. With the rebranding of the student section to “The Cave,” Cox said it puts things through a loop.
The main Missouri State student section Twitter accounts are @MOStateCave and @MaroonMadness. The Cave only has 716 followers on Twitter.
Cox said both accounts aren’t reaching too many students and it shows.
“They have to invest in the students again with giveaways and rewards, otherwise they are staying home,” Cox said.
Cox said Maroon Madness has “fallen off” to where it retweets and tweets negative thoughts about Missouri State commercial choices.
“That’s not the kind of image you want to show to your student body,” Cox said.
Boonshaft said he and his members need to use social media more often and more strategically.
“I’m not a fan of how we utilize Twitter, and I think that needs to change,” Boonshaft said. “I think our administration doesn’t support athletics enough.”
Winning helps and Boonshaft said the Lady Bears have done their part, but he doesn’t know what it will take for students to start showing up to games.
Students have seemed to not care whether they attend sporting events or whether the Lady Bears continue to dominate. This poses yet another question circling Missouri State athletics that’s been asked for years and still remains: does Missouri State have a school spirit issue?
“I’ve tried many things,” Boonshaft said. “I think we need to inform students about it. We’ve tried giveaways to get students to games. Recently, we had over 300 students show up to get the giveaway sweatshirt and then leave.
“I wish things were different, but students don’t seem interested in athletics.”