'This is a great day': Ohio State fans cheer on team in person for the first time all year

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
L-R: Ohio State students Cole Rapp, Davis Deasy, Dylan Meehan and Max Alter pose at Lucas Oil Stadium. Ohio State played Minnesota on Thursday, March 11, 2021, in the first game with fans in attendance this season.

INDIANAPOLIS – When George Gardner was younger, his dad, John P. Gardner, would take him to Ohio State men’s basketball games at St. John Arena. More recently, when the Buckeyes hosted Cleveland State there during the 2018-19 season, father and son were in attendance.

Now dad, who lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and son, who lives in Indianapolis, take in games at Value City Arena when they can. And when they learned that the Big Ten would allow limited capacity for this year’s conference tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, the two made a plan to be there.

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As they entered the monstrous home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, the elder Gardner couldn’t help but crack a joke.

“This cavernous building reminds us of the Schott,” he said with a laugh.

The stadium might not exactly have been designed with basketball in mind, and the game itself got harrier than Ohio State fans had hoped, but the opportunity to actually see the Buckeyes play in person was one many simply couldn’t pass up.

That included a foursome of Ohio State juniors who met as freshman in Morrison Tower: Cole Rapp, Davis Deasy, Dylan Meehan and Max Alter. Monday, the quartet looked at tickets in the upper levels that were selling for $5 but opted to buy lower-bowl tickets that cost $25.

Rapp, who was a member of the Buckeye Nuthouse official student section last season, was clad in scarlet and gray overalls that he wears to all Ohio State football games that he wore over an Ohio State Hawai’ian shirt that featured bananas and oranges.

“Online classes make it pretty easy to come,” he said. “And a three-hour drive isn’t too bad. I was kind of itching to get to a good game.”

Rapp, Deasy, Meehan and Alter felt confident enough to book a hotel for Thursday night with the hopes of returning Friday. Ohio State will face Purdue in a game scheduled to take place around 2 p.m.

Due to restrictions related to COVID-19, the Big Ten allowed only limited family and friends to a few games as the regular season went on this season. When the season began, nobody was allowed to attend save for limited media members.

During the game, the limited attendance could only make so much noise in such a massive building, but when things got dicey late the scattered Ohio State fans got a few “O-H” chants going. Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said a few fans greeted the team bus on its way to the arena.

“Seeing our fans there … was the best,” he told The Dispatch. “We have desperately missed them. So good to see and hear them and, quite honestly, I hope it was good for them to be a part of some normalcy. Our guys mentioned how cool it was to see and hear Scarlet in the stadium.”

The crowd included Don Wehrkamp, a native of Fort Recovery, Ohio, and his wife, Becky. Like the four Ohio State students, Don Wehrkamp said he had little issues getting tickets and that he had no apprehension about attending a game in person after usually attending a few Ohio State home games each season.

“I went to all the high school games,” he said. “I went to probably 50 games this year. I usually try to make it to a couple college games, but this year it was hard. It’s different watching it on TV.”

That’s why the Gardners had to come. The last game they were able to attend together was Ohio State’s loss to West Virginia at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on December 29, 2019. They were hoping to attend the NCAA Tournament, which will also be at Lucas Oil Stadium, but then saw ticket prices for Thursday’s games and couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“A little family bonding here, via the Buckeyes,” the dad said. “It’s been a long drought. It doesn’t get any better than this. This is a great day.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy