Standing in the bleachers, surrounded by Dirty Birds, sometimes, it can feel like the outcome of the game is dependent upon you. We scream and chant and stomp on the ground when the other team tries to make it from the three-point line. Though we may leave a game with a raspy voice, there is someone who screamed louder and stomped a little harder.
“I’ve been coming to games for five years now, and I don’t generally miss many,” said Jacob Barrett, a senior majoring in political science and legal studies. “I always try to come in here and help the team play in a good home environment.”
Barrett has been in the stands, painted in blue and green, cheering on both the men and women’s teams even when it wasn’t the most convenient time to be a fan. He started going to games his freshman year, the year before the Eagles coined the name “Dunk City.” Though he found his sophomore season more exciting, he claims he wouldn’t have appreciated it as much if he wasn’t there his freshman year cheering on the teams, regardless of the score.
“I definitely understand being a fair-weather fan; it’s the easiest thing to do,” Barrett said. “But, you have to understand it is far more rewarding to have been there through it all when your team does get good. Sitting through a 15-17 season my freshman year made it so much more satisfying to see them make it to the Sweet Sixteen my sophomore year.”
Barrett has become, arguably, the most recognizable face in the Dirty Bird section at games. But, he isn’t the only one out there, and he definitely finds it strange that being a loyal fan is something that has gotten him so much attention.
“I hope one day an FGCU fan like me won’t be newsworthy because it won’t be rare,” Barrett said. “To be honest with you, people always say I’m the face of the Dirty Birds, and I’ll take that. But, I honestly don’t like it because it makes it seem like I’m the only one here working hard to be a fan — working hard to get off work for a week and go watch games on the road — and you know, I’m not the only one doing that. That’s obviously not true. There are a lot of people in the stands and that work with Athletics that put in a lot of work. So, if people want to call me the leader of the Dirty Birds, that’s fine, but there are so many people like me. I just happen to be the loudest.”
This year, Barrett and his friends all piled into his SUV and made the 35-hour round trip drive to Dayton, Ohio to support the men’s team. Barrett and his group of friends accounted for more than half the handful of loyal students who made the trip to see the men’s team compete in the First Four. But, after the win against Fairleigh Dickinson, the long drive was all worth it when they made it back on campus before turning around to go cheer on the men in the NCAA Tournament.
“We got on the student bus to go see the team play in North Carolina,” Barrett said. “That was a lot of fun even though we lost to UNC, it just showed that our team isn’t going to just get beat by 40. We are going to make the big teams work when playing us. Our run in the NCAA my sophomore year was special, but I feel like this year was even more special — as weird as that sounds — because it shows everyone that we are not done. We aren’t just one-hit wonders. We aren’t going to just fade into obscurity again. We are here to compete every year no matter who we play. The women’s team has always been good, but to come out here and see both our men and women play well, I think that gives people a lot of hope.”
It may be Barrett’s senior year, but it won’t be his last year chanting and cheering, all while giving us Dirty Birds a fan to aspire to be. We will see his blue and green attire again, as we all stand in the student section and, one day, hopefully, become a section full of fans just like Jacob Barrett.
“I hope to one day come back here and see our student section competing with the likes of Duke and other student sections known nationwide for being insane the entire game,” Barrett said. “I’m definitely hoping one day for that and fans like me to be the norm here at FGCU.”