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An SMSU tradition

February 4, 2012
By Jim Tate - SMSU , Marshall Independent

Athletics Communications Director Kelly Loft has looked. "As of now, though, we just can't find when Hawaiian Night started," he said.

As best as he can pinpoint it, Hawaiian Night began in the mid-1980s, and was begun by former men's head coach Pierre duCharme.

duCharme was head boys coach at Aberdeen Central High School and, later, an assistant coach at Northern State. He then took over the men's program at Southwest Minnesota State University.

"They used to have something at Northern called 'I Hate Winter Night,'" said Loft. "So when it started, the game was traditionally against Northern State. But the conference changed, and schedules changed, so it's not Northern that's the opponent every year now."

SMSU takes on Augustana tonight in the traditional Hawaiian Night doubleheader. The women play at 6 p.m., and the men at 8 p.m. It's the culmination of Winter Meltdown activities on campus - formerly known as Winter Sux week.

Loft gets calls from colleges who want to know more about Hawaiian Night - about what they have to do to start something like that. "It's a tradition here now," he said. "You set the date, and people know what to do. It's good basketball played in an incredible atmosphere."

For those not familiar with Hawaiian Night, it's an opportunity for fans to dress up in tropical attire for a basketball doubleheader. And while you'll see a lot of Hawaiian shirts in the older crowd, over in the student section, it's an entirely different level of fun.

Hawaiian Night is ingrained in the SMSU culture. But like other traditions, it takes time. They're holding their first Hawaiian Night over at Minnesota State University Mankato tonight. For a hockey game.

As one SMSU student posted on Facebook to a friend helping to organize that event: "Good luck. That will be an epic fail. No one does Hawaiian Night like SMSU."

"There's no question it's the most unique event that goes on in our conference," said Loft. "It's different, and it's our own."

Perhaps no other athletic contest, outside of Homecoming, is as anticipated as Hawaiian Night. And while Homecoming brings back alumni from far and wide to revisit the campus and community at a somewhat more leisurely pace, Hawaiian Night brings with it an energy, a bedlam, you have to see to believe.

It's the students at their joyous, raucous best that brings people to the R/A Facility. Students look forward to it all semester, and many go to a lot of imaginative work getting their costumes ready.

For current students, it's a must-attend event. Recent alumni, too, circle the date on their calendars.

It's been alleged that some students indulge in an adult beverage or two before tipoff. While there may be a grain of truth to that, it is definitely true that Campus Security is on full alert.

Public Safety Director Mike Munford will have approximately 15 officers on duty tonight. "We want to provide a safe environment, but we also want the participants to have fun," he said.

He still shakes his head and chuckles at the memory of a keg of beer successfully smuggled into the gym in a baby buggy two years ago.

"Who would think of doing that?" he asks. "It was really cold out, I remember. Doing that took some real thought, and I give them an 'A' for effort

"We want to keep order. And if someone looks to be intoxicated, we don't let them in," said Munford.

There have been some shenanigans associated with the evening. Back in the '80s, former student Doug Gross knocked on the opposition's lockerroom door at halftime and yelled, "Two minutes!" At the time, there was about 8:00 left on the clock before the second half began. The opposition trotted out onto the floor in the PE gym, plenty early.

The stories are many, and everyone has their own memories of past Hawaiian Nights.

On Hawaiian Night, fans not only watch a good pair of basketball games, they are treated to a sideshow, complements of the students, who have embraced the tradition. Each year seems to bring new stories, new costumes and new shake-your-head-and-laugh fun.



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