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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Thursday, May 30, 2024
The Echo
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Silent Night brings together the best of Taylor University

Don't you dare say a word

Editor's Note: This article was written in December 2023. In the 2023 Silent Night game, the Trojans defeated the Great Lakes Christian Crusaders 103-65 and improved to a 25-1 record on Silent Night. Since the game, Taylor University has parted ways with head coach Josh Andrews.

Silent Night.

Holy Night.

All is calm.

All is bright.

Until the 10th point is scored.

Matt Csakai (‘18) describes the tradition as “insane.” 

“(Before the tenth point), the only thing you hear is the squeak of a shoe or the basketball … but that's about all that you hear,” Csakai said. “You get to that 10th point? It's pandemonium.”

As soon as the basketball drops through the hoop — whether it be a layup, free throw or three-point jumper —- the most beautiful organized chaos ensues as fans storm the court of Odle Arena from both sides in a colorful explosion of costumes, pajamas, lightsabers and American flags.

Some 1,500 students fill the court by jumping, cheering and celebrating on the most electric night of the year.

ESPN yearly recaps the event on SportsCenter. USA Today posted multiple highlights over the years in an article from 2017. In 2018, a group of journalists from Milan journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean to film it.

Out of all of the college traditions in sports — Hawaii football’s chant before games, “One Shining Moment” at the end of March Madness, and the Army-Navy game — this singular event in a city of fewer than 4,000 residents captivates people across the nation.

That event is Silent Night — the shining star of Taylor University Athletics.

The yearly game brings together nearly the entire student body for one night of joy and support. It has etched names like Jason Hubbard, Jake Heggeland and Andrew Davies into the history books of the NAIA school.

Josh Andrews, head coach of the men’s basketball team, has been at Taylor for over a decade and describes the tradition as “unique” with no other game, collegiate or otherwise, to compare to it.

Silent Night is for the players. Silent Night is for the students. Silent Night is far more than just a basketball game.

The Player Perspective

It’s easy to see why Silent Night is one of the grandest home-court advantages in America.

Where else can you get a fan base to cheer at every three-point attempt, free throw and steal during a regular season game? Every bounce of the basketball creates an eruption of noise from the Taylor faithful that any school would crave.

But that excitement can also be pressure-filled. The Trojans not only have to defend home court but also a near-perfect record (Taylor is currently 24-1 in Silent Night games).

Some opposing colleges avoid playing Taylor come Silent Night, while others scramble to land on Taylor’s schedule in mid-December, chomping at the bit to have a chance to play spoiler.

Coach Andrews reflected on how the Trojans have to adjust when it comes to game day.

“We normally start our warmups about 15 minutes before the game starts,” Andrews said. “90 minutes before (Silent Night) starts there's 1,000 some-odd people. That energy in the gym is just ridiculous.”

Regardless of the challenge presented to the players, the game is undoubtedly the highlight of the season.

Senior Gavin Yoon is a guard on the court and a management and marketing major off it. As he wraps up his collegiate career, there is no doubt that he’ll send his final Silent Night out with a bang.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Yoon said. “It’s interesting because your senior year, it’s your last year, your last go around at this. I talked about it with Coach (Andrews). I’ve been here for four years and developed a relationship with him, and the new guys are great … and we also have a veteran group. I’m excited.”

Izaiah Day, meanwhile, is a freshman politics and law major. The guard had heard of the event through his father, who coaches at Miami University Middletown.

“I’m probably going to be a little overwhelmed and a little scared at first, but I think once I get my bearings under myself, I'll be okay,” Day said. “I'm really excited to be part of it. I can't wait to be a part of something that special.”

Each player recognizes the game’s impact on the school and everyone in the stands. They take that pressure and walk out onto the court proud, focused and prepared every year.

“Once that tenth point is scored, we have the best home-court advantage,” Coach Andrews said, “It’s the truth. In the world, there's nowhere — anywhere, I don't care what sport it is that night — that has a better home-court advantage than we do. I stand by that.”

The Student Perspective

For students, Silent Night encompasses everything about Taylor University.

A campus filled with slogans like “intentional community” and “life to the full” lives up to those expectations, and then some, when December rolls around.

Surrounded by the chaos of an impending week of finals, papers and tests, students find a respite at the end of the year.

Students coordinate with their dormmates to synchronize costumes that vary from fun fares like cheerleaders, police officers and bananas to group themes like The Avengers, Jedi Knights or the cast of Mario Kart.

Nate Jones is a Taylor University alumnus who graduated in 2015 and still recalls his Silent Night experiences, despite his first year occurring over a decade ago.

“The year I remember the most, the opponent was delayed at least an hour, so the students took over,” Jones said. “There was a runway with a costume contest, a pick-up basketball game and a Mario Kart race. Silent Night is a metaphor for what Taylor is. People make their own fun.”

It’s a memory that also plays in the mind of Kyle Gould, the director of intercollegiate athletics and head coach of baseball at Taylor.

Gould has been tied with Taylor for over two decades, transitioning from a student to a coach to a director. He has seen the event evolve from a half-basketball-game-half-pajama-party to a televised ESPN event complete with costumes and a court storming.

“It is the truest picture of who Taylor's students are, and I think it's like the best night of the year where you can just look across the way and you just see all these students like just having fun like with their friends and just enjoying it,” Gould said. “I'm always just struck by just how proud I am to be at Taylor.”

But what does that enthusiasm look like in students today? Look no further than Taylor University sophomore Dalton Jones.

The Tale of Dalton Jones

In August 2022, Dalton Jones arrived at Taylor University as a freshman in Third East Wengatz Hall. Jones, a multimedia journalism major with a sports media focus, heard about the legendary event on a visit to campus in April of 2022.

A mural in the Kesler Students Activities Center (KSAC) caught his eye as he asked his guide about the pictures on the wall. As they walked into Odle Arena, he heard for the first time about Silent Night.

Eight months later, Jones enrolled at Taylor University. The Trojans were set to play the Miami-Middletown Thunderhawks at the 2022 Silent Night game on Friday, December 9.

The Trojans were led by the electric Jason Hubbard, a senior and high-flying forward who averaged over 20 points and eight rebounds a game and became Taylor’s all-time leading scorer before the season ended.

In short, the game was a must-watch for Jones.

Over the past few years, Taylor University administration has allowed students to “save a spot” in line before the day of the game.

For students, this means setting up tents inside the KSAC … three days before the game.

Each floor sends students to take shifts in the KSAC as if they were a platoon organizing troops to keep watch. Some wings send texts in group chats, while some floors set up spreadsheets and time slots for people to schedule their shifts.

The line is the law for the students. The first person in line gets into the arena first. The first person in the arena gets first dibs on seats for their whole wing. Each person who sleeps in tents, sleeping bags or couches in the KSAC for days on end knows the importance of the line.

Insert Dalton Jones.

“I camped out for an hour on Tuesday and I did three or four hours on Wednesday,” Jones said. “There was a Google Sheet, so we signed up for a time and we could not leave. So (I’m) just sitting there, and I’m like, I need to commit.”

Commit he did. For 36 hours. 

Jones used the rest of his class skips on Thursday and Friday.  He took his tests in the KSAC. His floormates brought him food in the KSAC. He slept on two chairs in the KSAC. 

Any lesser man would become bored or aggravated. He loved it.

“Everybody there is super cool about it,” Jones said. “I played cornhole, we played Mario Kart, we brought a Wii and a projector. We played Wii (Sports) bowling. I camped out for a consecutive 36 hours.”

When it was finally time to enter Odle Arena and claim seats, Jones was taking a nap and nearly lost his place but woke up just in time to move back to second in line, rush out as soon as the doors opened and earn his Third East Wengatz brethren courtside seats.

Dressed in costumes like Steve from Minecraft, Jones enjoyed the fruits of his labor and sat… stayed silent for 10 points … and stormed the court at his first Silent Night as Jason Hubbard sunk a free throw.

When it comes to round two?

“I am absolutely pumped for this year,” Jones said.

- - - - - - - -

“Unique.” “Insane.” “Amazing.” “Tradition.” “Mania.” “Special.”

Silent Night is for the players. Silent Night is for the students. Silent Night is far more than just a basketball game.

Betsy Teevens (‘18) said, “Silent Night is one night. The time of year with the climax of classes before Christmas break. It’s powerful for everyone (and) it’s about the relationships that you have.

From the costumes to the court storming, Silent Night encapsulates every wonderful part of the small college in Upland, Indiana.

“Coach (Andrews) keeps reiterating that, you know, we're playing, but it's also the school's event, and it's been going on for a while and just honoring that and the students here,” Yoon said. “It’s a blessing to be a part of.”

Until that 10th point is scored,

All will remain quiet.

All will remain still.

All will remain Silent.