It’s an early-December evening at Taylor University. With finals approaching, everyone has made their way to Odle Arena. The bleachers and sidelines are packed to the brim with college students wearing wild costumes. Teletubbies, Jim Harbaugh impersonators and human-sized hot dogs dot the crowd.
None of these oddly-attired college students make a sound. The game remains quiet, the fans hushed. Then, a bucket is made. The silence is broken. The whole gym descends into chaos as the previously silent students flood onto the court.
This is what Silent Night has become. The annual tradition has transformed from a simple game students attended in pajamas into a sporting spectacle. On Dec. 6 at 6 p.m., the Trojan men’s basketball team will take the floor against Ohio–Chillicothe as the madness of Silent Night continues.
So, what happened? What made this game go from simply the last home game before finals to absolute madness?
Silent Night, for all the recognition it has gathered, had humble beginnings. Before the outrageous costumes and court-storming, students attended the last home game before finals in pajamas, a tradition which can be traced back to the 1980s. After the game, the students would make the short trek over to the Dining Commons, where they would enjoy hot chocolate and a recitation of “The Night Before Christmas” from President Emeritus Jay Kesler, who was typically dressed as Santa Claus.
The tradition of staying silent until a certain point was scored started in 1997. According to Taylor alumnus Tab Bamford (’02), former sports editor for The Echo and Trojan basketball superfan, before the tradition of the 10th point became a part of the event, The Echo sports section would inform the students of how many points they needed to wait before celebrating. Some years it could be 10, other years it could be 12.
Somewhere along the line, the 10th point became a part of the tradition which has stuck ever since.
Starting in 2012, Taylor is charged a timeout after the 10th point, giving the students time to storm the court and release all their pent-up energy from being silent for the opening part of the game.
Since then, the popularity and exposure of the game has continuously grown.
No one had ever heard of Taylor or Upland, Indiana, but people began to hear about Silent Night.
CBS Sports writer Kyle Boone called it, “one of the most underrated, underappreciated traditions in all of college basketball.”
In 2010, ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan wrote a short piece on the event. The Duke University men’s basketball team’s official Twitter account tweeted a video of the event, comparing the event’s crowd to that of their famed “Cameron Crazies” student section.
That was only the beginning.
Major media outlets like NBC, Fox, USA Today and Sports Illustrated started covering the event. ESPN programs began discussing the event. Justin Bieber even posted a video of an Olson flash mob performing to Bieber’s rendition “Drummer Boy” at halftime of 2011’s Silent Night on his Facebook account.
Then in 2015, ESPN came to campus and did a full feature on the event, covering it and creating a nearly four-minute long segment that aired on “SportsCenter.”
Bamford was one of the first people to wear a costume instead of pajamas to the game. As a Trojan basketball fan, he loves what Silent Night has become.
“It’s really encouraging that it’s continued to be a thing and that fans still get into it,” Bamford said. “It’s gone from bananas to an absolute riot. And I love that. I’m envious of what it has become.”
As the Trojans prepare for the matchup with Ohio–Chillicothe, Head Coach Josh Andrews gets ready to coach his seventh Silent Night game.
With his team dropping the first ever Silent Night game last season, Andrews knows they will have to be ready and stay concentrated.
“What’s interesting about Silent Night, is that it comes between two conference games in the same week,” Andrews said. “So our guys will have to be really good at taking it one day at a time.”
Andrews admitted it’s hard to stay entirely focused on the game in front of them.
While he wants the game to be as routine as possible, he encourages his players to take the moment in.
“After Tuesday’s game we talk to our guys and say ‘We are going to enjoy these next few days,’” Andrews said. “It’s just so special. We get to be center stage for a community event.”
Senior guard Mason Degenkolb, who has started in all three Silent Night games of his career, said the team tries to keep it as routine as possible heading into the game.
However, much like his coach, Degenkolb understands the importance of enjoying such a unique moment and tradition.
“After I graduate I’ll be able to be proud of being a part of something that was a lot bigger than just me,” Degenkolb said. “Looking back and being able to say ‘I played in that game’ is really special.”
As the event has been molded into what it is today and the fame around it grows, Silent Night remains uniquely Taylor. Even in the madness and exposure, the event remains true to its roots.
While other schools have their homecomings, dances and other big events to remember, Taylor has Silent Night.
“Silent Night is the quintessential shared experience at Taylor,” Bamford said. “It’s the one moment the entire student body can look back on.”
With all eyes turned to tiny Odle Arena and tiny Upland, the Trojan men’s basketball team will tip against Ohio-Chillicothe at 6 p.m. With the students watching and collectively losing their sanity on the 10th point, the Taylor community will write yet another chapter in this truly special tradition.