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Column | Kids rock the Ted, and ODU women roll

NORFOLK

I can't vouch for what they're like in class, but the Norfolk elementary school kids who packed the Constant Center late Wednesday morning certainly took instruction well during the Old Dominion women's basketball game.

Whenever the big video screen hanging above center court flashed "Make Some Noise," the children responded with such enthusiasm and lung power that ODU might need a structural engineer to check the arena's roof for loose bolts.

Mostly, the video request was superfluous, of course. You give the energetic, fidgety Nickelodeon set a day off from school and put them in a place where they're encouraged to use their outside voices, and... well, try imagining the sound of 5 million cicadas inside a building.

There were 32 public schools represented at the game between ODU and UMass Lowell on "Education Day," though as far as the action on the court went, both teams are in need of remedial instruction in taking care of the ball.

Old Dominion's 90-57 victory over its winless opponent featured a combined 55 turnovers, split almost evenly. But there weren't any issues between the lines that could detract from the feel-good, festive - did I mention deafening? - atmosphere.

Maybe some of the children who arrived on the 126 buses and swelled attendance to 8,086 - an arena-high for ODU women's basketball - will grow up to be Lady Monarchs basketball fans. A youth movement is needed judging from the demographics at most of their games.

But while the Constant Center event was meant to be about the future, ODU basketball's future didn't top the agenda.

"I want every kid to walk out of here thinking of the possibility of going to college, that education is first and if you work hard anything can happen," ODU coach Karen Barefoot said after the game.

The day was an "amazing experience," she said, though considering the weak competition, her team got off to a ragged start. Were they distracted by the sights and sounds of so many animated little fans?

"It was awesome," Barefoot said. "But again, you've got to focus. And I think we got out of focus in the first half. You have to stick to the game plan and not worry about what's out there."

The attendance tops the previous record of 7,774 - mostly adults - who watched Wendy Larry's team lose to Pat Summitt's Tennessee squad in 2010. At the time, the Lady Monarchs were already hanging on by their fingernails to regional significance. National prominence had eroded.

That game was about ODU's willingness to stand up to a basketball bully, whereas three years later, another ODU team took on an inferior, hand-picked opponent. What else has changed is that no one's pretending any longer that the team's fortunes resonate much beyond Hampton Boulevard.

Barefoot, though, buzzing over the crowd of children, said, "To be honest with you, we want 8,000 here every night. That's our goal. We want to get back to where we're leading the country in attendance."

There's nothing wrong with aiming too high. But even in the unlikely event that the women take a huge leap in attendance, crowds made up of the usual ticket-buying public could never be as decibel-defying loud as Wednesday's kiddie crowd.

In any case, the game was a mere sideshow. The day was about the kids who arrived on the buses and the way they raised the roof and sang and danced in their seats to songs coming over the P.A.

When the game was over, Barefoot held a microphone and spoke to the kids, telling them to "give it up for yourselves." She asked them to leave with "a vision of what it takes to get here and go to college."

As the kids filed out, Barefoot closed the noisy day with an ear-splitting goodbye.

"Thank you very much," she shouted into the mic, "and GOOOO LADY MONARCHS!"

Barefoot hopes that someday her team will make as much noise.

Bob Molinaro, 757-446-2373, bob.molinaro@pilotonline.com

Posted to: Bob Molinaro College Basketball, Women Norfolk Sports

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