Oct. 13, 2005
By Jeremy Herb
The Santa Clara
Santa Clara tennis fans have left their country club attire in the clubhouse.
The Hecklers on the Hill, the official fan club of Santa Clara tennis, are changing the image of the typical tennis fan. Reserved, quiet crowds no longer line the courts at Santa Clara matches. Instead, heckling has become the fans' biggest objective.
"Tennis is widely thought of as a quiet sport, but we like making it as loud as possible," said men's head coach George Husack. "We take great pride in having home-court advantage.
Husack, who founded the Hecklers just two years ago, was also involved with the creation of the Ruff Riders in 1999, when he was the director of marketing for athletics.
"I was at a wedding for former player Lars Nelson (class of 2000)," Husack said. "I struck up a conversation with another former player, Rick Ruso (2004), and discussed the crowds we had over the years -- especially the one that witnessed Lars clinch a thrilling five-hour match against USD in the 2000 WCC Championships. So we continued reminiscing and thought that we should work on getting more students out to our matches."
Husack put his plan in motion and the Hecklers were created in the 2003-2004 season. The Broncos are delighted that the loud crowds and the energy the Hecklers bring to the court can give them an extra boost in close matches.
"It makes me more excited when I have someone cheering for me," said junior Kelly Leathers. "It makes me want to hit a better shot. It makes me want to go for a winner to get the crowd to cheer."
The name Hecklers on the Hill came from the hill that's adjacent to court three at the Degheri Tennis Center, the Broncos' home. Husack explained that the hill earned the nickname "the grassy knoll" before the Hecklers were created.
"We spoke about our grassy knoll at the courts because this was a place students hung out. I referred to it as the hill and then heckling came up in our discussion. We put the two together and came up with Hecklers on the Hill," Husack said.
The Degheri Tennis Center is suited for fan interaction. The hill puts the fans right on top of the action and the fencing between the hill and the court is at waist level. There isn't a barrier to keep fans out of earshot, which can distract the Broncos' opponents.
"You have to be so focused in tennis that things outside the court start to distract you and to affect your play," said redshirt sophomore Kevin McQuaid.
Women's head coach Damon Coupe explained that the fans' proximity to the players gives the Broncos an even bigger home-court advantage.
"Normally, if the player misses the shot, you wouldn't cheer because that's an error. You'd cheer if our guy hits a winner," Coupe said. "But now, in college tennis -- if he misses that, you're all over him, trying to put the pressure on him as a crowd, kind of like a missed free throw."
While Broncos fans are able to make considerable noise at tennis matches, there can be consequences for heckling too much. Judges have the ability to award point penalties against players if the crowd gets too rowdy, which they did many times against the Broncos last season, according to Coupe. However, Coupe wasn't concerned with the points the Broncos lost because of their fans.
"I support it 100% because I'll bet you my fans have caused that player to miss more balls than the one point that we're getting penalized for," he said.
The hecklers do a good job of getting to the Broncos' opponents, but when they get the judges annoyed too, the traditional and modern tennis cultures can clash.
"It's not too bad," said junior A.J. Perry, "but sometimes it can still be enough to get the officials' attention and warn (the hecklers), 'if I hear you one more time, then I'm throwing you out.' "
While the Bronco coaches enjoy the hecklers distracting opposing players, they make it clear to fans that personal attacks are not acceptable.
"We encourage all the cheering and intensity as possible, as long as it's not directed at one person," said Husack.
Husack and Coupe hope that the Hecklers presence on campus will help change Santa Clara's image of tennis. They want students to know that tennis can be as exciting as some of the more popular Bronco sports are.
"It'd be great to let people know it's not the boring sport you're used to seeing where everybody's saying 'shh' and be quiet," Coupe said. "It's rowdy and it certainly helps our players. College athletics thrive on emotion and that's what our players need."
The hecklers encourage a friendly atmosphere during matches by barbecuing or providing some other kind of food to its members. On most weekend matches, tennis boosters can be found close to the grill.
To join the Hecklers, it costs five dollars. Included with a membership is an official Hecklers on the Hill t-shirt and free food at all of the matches. The tennis team will begin selling the shirts and memberships in January.