Eric Andrews | The Echo
It's the most wonderful time of the year at Taylor University. Students and faculty enjoy holiday-themed events and food, delight in the changing weather and begin celebrating the birth of Jesus, all as the fall semester comes to a close.
The crown jewel of the end-of-semester festivities, though, is Silent Night. Each year, the men's basketball team hosts a game on the last Friday of the semester before finals week. Silent Night is no normal mid-season basketball game, however. Silent Night features a mosaic of costumes in the stands eagerly anticipating the Trojans' 10th point to be scored to turn the silent scene into bedlam.
While Silent Night had its humble beginnings, the game has evolved over the years to become a worldwide phenomenon.
The tradition, started in 1997, began as a precursor to Taylor's annual Christmas party with the university's president. Students would attend the game wearing their pajamas before heading to the Christmas story-themed party.
In Silent Night's early days, The Echo would determine which point would break the silence in the paper published on the day of the game, with the point usually in the seven-to-ten range. Having a different point each year ensured neither team would know when exactly the eruption would take place.
Silent Night as it is known today, with its colorful quilt of costumes, did not come to fruition until 2000. A group of students from Samuel Morris Hall decided to escalate the tradition to a new level by dressing up in crazy attire to make the game more fun.
"I showed up with a cardboard box around my waist with suspenders and a sign that read 'censored,'" Tab Bamford ('02) said. "(I wore) nothing but shorts and sandals. When (President Gyertson) approached me at halftime, I thought for sure I was getting kicked out of school."
In the years since, Silent Night has developed into an arena-shaking frenzy. What started as a simple pre-party event has turned into the main event itself. Odle Arena is packed to the rafters with students, faculty, family, friends and community members alike, all excited to be a part of the madness.
In recent years, costumes have ranged from specific people to inanimate objects. The Old Spice guy, legendary basketball coach Bob Knight, Waldo and even Jesus have all been spotted inside Odle Arena, as have Christmas trees and slices of pizza.
The bleacher-rattling outburst has garnered attention from countless media outlets across the country over the years. The game has been covered by news outlets such as NBC, CBS and Fox and sports media outlets such as ESPN and Sports Illustrated. The game has routinely found itself featured on SportsCenter, ESPN's iconic sports news show.
"The reason I love sports is because of the atmosphere they create and the excitement they instill in people," Sports Illustrated writer Kenny Ducey said. "That's why I love Silent Night. You've also got a thousand different things going on (at Silent Night), so it doesn't really get old, either. You can't help but smile when you see it."
NBC Sports writer Scott Phillips is amazed by how Silent Night continues to earn national attention and is impressed by its elite status among sports traditions.
Despite being a small NAIA school in rural Indiana with minimal media coverage, Silent Night continues to find its way into the hearts of millions of Americans each year.
"Athletics can be a lot about instant gratification and the buildup to the Silent Night celebration makes it worth the wait," Phillips said. "There's really nothing like it."
For the second consecutive year, Silent Night will be featured on Snapchat. The game will have its own live story and will be visible to users worldwide. People on Taylor's campus today will be able to submit pictures and videos and, pending Snapchat's approval and selection, could find their media on the live story.
For those unable to attend, the game will be streamed live through the Taylor athletics website. Updates will also be available on Twitter by searching for #TUSilentNight.
Tonight's Silent Night game sees the No. 12-ranked Trojans hosting Lincoln Christian University. The Trojans enter the contest with a spotless 19-0 all-time mark in Silent Night games and a 10-1 record this season, falling only to No. 1 Saint Francis Tuesday in Fort Wayne. The Trojans have picked up many impressive wins already this season, highlighted by defeating No. 3 Davenport on the road.
The Trojans' roster features many new faces this year but also boasts a strong collection of returning players, including Silent Night 10th-point heroes junior Keaton Hendricks and sophomore Evan Crowe. Crowe sank a three-pointer to ignite the crowd last year.
"I missed my first (shot), going for the 10th point," Crowe said. "(I was thinking) 'I better make it this time.' Once it went in, it was awesome. I had teammates saying that I couldn't get the smile off my face."
With a handful of freshmen on this year's team, the question whether a freshman will make the hysteria-inducing shot for the third year in a row looms large. Perhaps the most likely of the freshman candidates is Mason Degenkolb, a starter and the team's leading scorer.
Though the team tries their best to ignore the anticipation, treating Silent Night like any other game is a tall task.
"The joke around the staff for the guys is that when the 10th point happens, then a basketball game breaks out," head coach Josh Andrews said. "It's not business as usual. The fact that we know everyone is going to be silent until the 10th point-all eyes are on you-there's some pressure there."
The Odle Arena doors will open for the 20th-annual Silent Night game at 5:30 p.m. for Taylor students and at 6 p.m. for the general public. Admission for Taylor students will be free with a student ID, while general admission tickets for adults ($10) and children over the age of six and Taylor alumni ($5) will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
"Graphic illustrated by Eric Andrews"