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Published: Thursday, 10/15/2009

HIT SOMEBODY! Old Toledo tradition could find its way to new home

It started with a group called the Road Warriors, who may or may not have had too many adult beverages at the time. Or maybe it started earlier, which we'll get back to later.

Anyway, late in the inaugural season of the Toledo Storm - this would have been 1991-92 when the locals won 46 of 64 games and enticed about 5,000 fans a game into the old Sports Arena - about 30 diehards began traveling with the hockey team on weekends.

Rita Knab was one of them and the Road Warriors were in Columbus one night for a Storm faceoff against the Chill. At the tail end of the national anthem, at "the home of the brave," the Columbus fans screamed "HOME" at the appropriate time. Maybe because they were at home. Who knows? It was pretty weak, but it's what they had.

So, the Road Warriors all took another sip of whatever was in their plastic cups and, said Rita, "We decided we needed to do something like that. Remember, we were rebels back then. Now, we're all just old."

So, at the next home game, it went something like this:

"O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave …

"HIT SOMEBODY! …

"O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"

Thus, a Toledo hockey tradition was born. Even Francis Scott Key might have been mildly amused had he been even mildly alive, which, of course, he was not.

"It was a small arena," said Rita, "so it spread pretty quickly. After a couple games, everybody was doing it."

And there was nothing subtle about it. Whether it was 5,000 fans on a Friday or 2,200 on a snowy, icy weeknight, the low ceiling and the bounce-back acoustics in the ancient joint made it, well, memorable.

It was, regardless of your take on patriotism, part of an entertaining era of hockey in Toledo.

A new era begins tomorrow night with a new franchise in a beautiful new arena smack in the middle of downtown.

After two long, dark seasons without the sport, it is finally time for the Toledo Walleye to HIT SOMEBODY.

But will the players hear that command?

Some of the east-side diehards who breathed life into Toledo hockey for decades, folks who still feel betrayed by the political machinations that led to Lucas County Arena being built on the "wrong" side of the river, swear they'll never set foot in the new place. Ticket prices may force the old shot-and-beer crowd to give way to a "see-and-be-seen" breed of fan that prefers a martini, up with a twist.

"I think we'll hear it, though, at least on opening night," Rita said.

Don't be so sure.

At two exhibition games held at local rinks last weekend fans were asked to "please refrain" from yelling anything and to "be respectful" during the national anthem.

Was that the doing of Walleye management? "Yes," said a team spokesman.

Will the same announcement be made at the new arena? "Yes," said the spokesman.

My goodness. How dare they? A tradition is a tradition.

Different fans have different recollections of how this particular one began.

Wendy Miller Dailey said it started in adjacent sections 2 and 105 and credits a guy named John Mills, who once spent four days standing with his hand on a car in an attempt to win a radio station give-away. Hands-on John, they called him.

He owned seats in that sliver of Section 2 above a walkway in the corner opposite the Storm bench in the old barn at One Main Street. Mills said they first started yelling "HIT SOMEBODY!" at the end of the anthem, but it got drowned out by people cheering the song.

"So we started to yell it during that pause between the lines at the end," he said. "Whoever was playing or singing the anthem would pause at the right time and let us yell it."

Mills, at the age of 18, spent a big chunk of his first paycheck on season tickets during the Goaldiggers' era and calls himself "part of the fan base that grew out of Teddy Garvin hockey."

Some will suggest that

"HIT SOMEBODY!" actually began back then in the late 1970s, when Terrible Teddy patrolled the bench area, although longtime arena public address announcer Bobb Vergiels said, "I can't remember it being part of the Diggers and I can't remember a time it was not a part of the Storm."

Mike Kelly might respectfully disagree.

He also sat in section 105 among a group called the 105 Bombers, so called because, well, they were usually bombed.

"You could hear Teddy yelling at players on the bench," Kelly recalled, "and one night he screamed at them to 'Hit somebody!' So we started yelling it, too, although not necessarily during the mational anthem. Just anytime during a game. Teddy would laugh at us."

Apparently, it will no longer be a laughing matter, although I'm not sure how the Walleye plan to enforce their "suggestion."

I applaud management for wanting to present a family-friendly atmosphere. It's true that the deterioration of the old arena was just one reason many fans, especially those with children, stopped attending games in the last-gasp years of the Storm. There was too much drunkenness, too much profanity, too many brawls in the stands, too much truly bad behavior. Those were embarrassments, not traditions.

This seems different.

So, at the risk of losing my press credentials: HIT SOMEBODY!

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398



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