Both loyal and not so loyal sports fans realize that it is an understatement that fans can make the game. Every venue---whether baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and the list goes on--- tends to have its own set of loyal fans – those who never miss a game, who never fail to let the referees or umpires know when they’ve missed a call, or the coach for a bogus, bonehead call. We have all observed them, fussed about them, encouraged them; yet we continued to look forward to a weekly dose of their entertainment.
When setting out to find those boisterous and entertaining fans, my first stop was a trio of fun-loving, ref-gouging men at Chipola College. It matters not if it’s the men or women playing. You can count on knowing every missed call just from the voices of Bobby Sims, Danny Sims, and Gary Jackson. The trio say they don’t exactly know when they became regulars but fans around them who have come and gone say it’s been some time now. Bobby Sims is an expert referee at basketball; he never misses a call. If you think he has missed one, ask him and he’ll let you know differently. If he had ever missed one or missed letting the official know when he messed up, he has plenty of backup from former superintendent of schools, Danny Sims, and retired businessman, Gary Jackson, who have his back. Of the three, Bobby is the most vocal of the group and usually the first to voice his opinion not only to the refs but also to the coaches. He may be vocal but is always politically correct in his criticism.
Travel down the road a piece to the basketball capital of Jackson County – Malone, Florida. The Tigers are known throughout the state for their basketball programs, girls’ and boys’. Just as well known is their loyal fan, Mr. Willie Hall. Mr. Hall is not clear on the dates he became a Tiger fan but is positive that it happened around the time integration came about in Jackson County. At that time, Mr. Hall relocated from Panama City and almost instantly became almost a Tiger fan. He’s cheered them through district titles, regional titles, but will tell you quickly that there’s nothing better than the thrill of a state title, a quest he’s been a part of for more than half a century. Willie is most animated, amazingly witty, and a virtual fixture at Malone games. But don’t let his antics deceive you; he is decidedly knowledgeable about the game. A devoted fan—he is one funny man.
Two of the more vocal fans I have had the pleasure of meeting reign from the town of Graceville – and these two take their basketball very seriously. Darrell Olds and Dennis Pittman are 1977-78 Graceville alumnae. Last Friday night at the Graceville-Cottondale game in Graceville, they were pretty convinced it was their play calling, coaching, and cheering from under the goal in the Cottondale gym that pulled off the Tiger victory. Bleachers are not their style; they are much more into the game from a standing position.
Moving to the eastern part of Jackson County to the Sneads Pirates, coaches and administrators will quickly tell you that Bubba Faircloth is hard to beat as a Sneads fan. He can usually be located on the top row of the bleachers and will be pulling hard for his Pirates. He has seen them through lean years and through some very prosperous years but no matter the outcome of the game, Faircloth is always a Pirate supporter. Fans can truly make the game enjoyable and much more often than not, this is what they do.
Fortunately, most such fans are only enjoying the game and each other in their own unique style. These diehard fans would never intentionally make anyone else from any team feel uncomfortable. Their participation is all in good fun. From those we know so well, there is never any truly negative or rowdy behavior. Of course, rarely there may be a situation involving fans who do let their own emotions get the best of them. All local sports events are monitored by administration and security who are familiar with the sports scenes locally and are there to deal with those who are determined to be inappropriately obnoxious. We, in Jackson County, are blessed to be able to enjoy funny, enthusiastic fans who are all there to cheer on their chosen teams. On your next outing enjoy the game and take time to seek out the loyal fans – they can give you insights and an education on the team(s) that you otherwise might not ever know.