DeKALB - Jerry and Sandy Busby may be the ultimate high school basketball fans - at least for DeKalb.
The couple, who moved to DeKalb in 1960 from the Maple Park area, has been attending local boys and girls games for more than 50 years. They even have season tickets to both the mens and womens teams at Northern Illinois University.
“We didn’t go to as many games when we were younger because we had young kids,” said Jerry Busby, who won state tournaments in the Senior Olympics and didn’t quit playing ball himself until he was 73.
Sandy Busby is such a Barbs fan that last Friday night, during the first boys game of the annual Chuck Dayton Tournament in DeKalb, she had a friend text her the scores from the girls game in the Naperville Tournament.
“I like to know what’s going on,” she said.
The couple said they try to arrive early for games so they can get the same seats, in the center aisle, the equivalent of the 50-yard line in football. Plus, Jerry Busby adds with a grin, “We can get parking close to the exits.”
Seated behind them is another long-time hardwood fan, Paul Engstrom, a former hall of fame referee who has attended 57 state basketball championships. He has been watching high school basketball games for 67 years.
“I just love the game,” he said. “I enjoy watching it.”
Engstrom said he was born and raised on what was once a farm where the DHS gym now stands.
Because of its proximity to the crowd, high school basketball creates a kind of spirit rare to see in other prep sports.
Nick Bourdages, a DeKalb High School senior, calls himself “the Orange Man,” and with good reason. Clad entirely in a tight orange body suit, he can be seen leading cheers from the student cheering section in what is designated “the Crows’ Nest” under the far basket.
“This is a tradition of our school the last four or five years,” he said of his brightly-colored morph suit. “It’s been handed down. It’s an honor. ...I can help fellow students get rowdy and not get in trouble for it.”
Every year a male student - the most spirited member of the senior class - is chosen to wear the suit, Bourdages said.
“I bought a new suit this year,” he said. “I thought five years of wear and tear was enough on one.”
Not far from him last Friday night sat fellow senior Sabrina Killeen. As members of the Athletic Council, Killeeen said she and Andre Harris, a senior guard on the boys’ team, come up with a different theme for every home game.
During last Friday’s game, since it was the weekend before Christmas, some of the girls were decked out in Santa tops and hats with black pants, boots and glitter on their cheeks.
“We usually have a different theme for every game, but for a tournament like this, we keep it simple, usually just orange and black (school colors),” she said.
Past themes, she said, have included jungle, neon and ugly sweaters. In a couple of weeks, they’ll do a “proud to be an American” theme.
“I’m a senior, so I don’t care what I look like,” she laughed. “It makes the basketball game more fun.”
“By dressing up, it shows that we have spirit for the team,” another senior, Carlee Hayes, added.
Besides being able to see the faces of her classmates, Hayes said she prefers basketball to football, the most popular high school sport, for an obvious reason.
“I like basketball better than football because it’s not as cold,” she said.
The Busbys agreed. Calling themselves “fair-weather fans,” Jerry said the weather has to be at least 68 degrees for them to go to an outdoor game.
As part of their basketball spirit, students hold up cardboard signs with pictures of classmates who are in the game.
“We just hold them up and yell their names and be obnoxious,” senior Brett Thomas said, laughing.
Which means being loud, which they hope inspires their team.
“In football, it’s hard for the guys to hear us,” Bourdages said.
Sometimes it can get so loud during a basketball game, it makes those working in the concession stand wonder what’s going on. Stationed just around the corner from the gym, they can’t see the action.
“If someone comes out, I’ll just ask them,” one concession worker, DHS senior Kasey Kitchen, said.
“Or I’ll just go take a look,” Jillian Kech, a 10-year-old fourth-grader, giggled.
DHS senior Alyssa Baars said the students volunteer to work the concession stands at home games, which is another, more subtle way to support all the athletic programs.
The concession stand is conducted by the booster club, and though parents of athletes are asked to help out, club vice president Allen Maeder said they’re careful to make sure parents aren’t scheduled to work the same time their son or daughter is playing. If no one else is available, he said they’ll just shut the concession stand down.
The Chuck Dayton Tournament, in its 85th year, is the longest-running boys basketball tournament in the state. The tournament runs through Friday, Dec. 28.