LOWELL — With the ball cradled in his fingertips, Brighton High’s Nick Simpson stepped to the free-throw line, attempting to finish off a three-point play in Saturday’s Division 2 North boys’ basketball final at the Tsongas Center.
While he focused on the rim, the noise level in the arena went up several notches as the student section from North Andover High, Brighton’s opponent that day, dialed up its rendition of Twisted Sister’s 1984 hit “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
“You’re not gonna make it,” chanted the group that calls itself The Black Hole. “No! You’re not gonna make it. You’re not gonna make it, anymore.”
But Simpson (game-high 24 points) converted the free throw and Brighton went on to defeat North Andover for the North title, 64-59, earning a trip to Tuesday’s state semifinal against Scituate.
After the defeat, a handful of North Andover players walked over to salute the students who had cheered and supported the Knights on their run to the program’s first sectional final appearance since the 2006-07 season.
During the state basketball tournament, the storied “sixth man’’ is not just an extra player off the bench, but often a boisterous student section that sets out to rattle opposing players, creating a tense, jolting, and festive atmosphere.
Across the region, a few cheering sections are almost as well as known as their teams: Jack’s Jungle at Andover High, the Red Sea at Central Catholic, Welcome to Hell at Burlington, and The Black Hole at North Andover.
“Basically, we just try and get into the other team’s head,” said Jack MacLean, a senior at North Andover who serves as the Black Hole maestro.
“I started going to games my freshman year, and the seniors that year were crazy, and I’m just trying to do what they did.”
A player committing a turnover is often serenaded with “It’s all your fault,” accompanied with a sea of pointed fingers. On Saturday, Danvers High students bellowed a spirited “I believe . . . I believe that . . . I believe that we will win” chant in their school’s Division 3 North win over Wayland at Tsongas Arena.
That booming vocal support can help push a team over the top. But when the words are over the top, they can also cause headaches for school administrators.
Chanting the name of a player’s girlfriend while he was attempting a free throw was not off limits at the Wakefield-North Andover game.
“We go borderline, but we keep it clean,” said North Andover senior Nick Pino.
Wakefield’s athletic director, Mike Boyages, said, “It’s great to have the students at games, but you really have to be conscientious on supervising the kids and doing an adequate job.’’
His school has often been lauded for its game support, with 500 students consistently filling the stands at tourney games.
“Most often, teachers travel as monitors to make sure kids are acting appropriately,” added Boyages.
“We pretty much station monitors to surround the student section and you never can prepare for what they say. But as soon as we hear something inappropriate, we address it immediately.”
At North Andover, MacLean also leads the section’s “roller coaster,” a popular tactic used by many student sections. He faces the crowd and waves his arms to the right, the left, up and down, and his minions follow, emulating the ups and downs of a theme park’s thrill ride.
But the Black Hole also has its own oddities, like the enigmatic student dressed in the costume of Venom, the famed villain from the Spider-Man comics.
“He just appeared,” said Pino. “We don’t know where he came from. We won’t name him; he’s a mystery.”
Derek Collins, a senior captain at North Andover, loves playing in front of such an energetic crowd. “You just want to laugh at the stuff they’re saying sometimes,” Collins said. Teammate Isaiah Nelson feels his school has the “most loyal fans in the state,” noting their presence when the Knights rallied from an 18-point deficit earlier this season against Central Catholic for a win.
Roughly 300 Westford fans filed into the Tsongas Center Saturday to watch the Grey Ghosts take on the Central Catholic girls, wearing anything white. The school’s self-proclaimed “super fans” took to the first few rows to get as close to the action as possible, and during one stretch of strong play from Samantha Hyslip (17 points, 15 rebounds in a 60-51 loss), the group repeatedly bowed to the junior forward as she stood at the free-throw line.
The fans’ strength, though, is trying to take opponents out of their comfort zones.
“Usually we’ll say something about their coach,” said Westford senior Nate Tashjy. “Nothing personal, but kind of call them out if he or she is getting a little too aggressive. Like, ‘Hey coach, take a seat; you’re sweating a little too much.’ Something along those lines.”
Hockey also brings out the crazies. Burlington High’s team name is the Red Devils, so their cheering sections wear all red and tell their opponents: “Welcome to Hell.’’
“Oh, we’re crazy. We’re real rude; we hate every other town,” senior Anthony Cruz said at the Burlington-Winchester Division 1 North final hockey game Monday night at Tsongas Arena.
At one point, the Winchester students during an overtime chanted “We want the cup! We want the cup!” in reference to the Stanley Cup, meaning they wanted a trip to the TD Garden for a chance to win the title. Burlington won in overtime.
MIAA spokesman Paul Wetzel said that schools have done an excellent job supervising behavior during the state tournament throughout the years.
But they are not perfect.
“Unfortunately, high school kids will be high school kids and behave in a way that we don’t condone,” Wetzel said. “We’ve had some prominent issues. [In 2009], Needham High School banned students from attending hockey games [during the regular season] because of their behavior.”
During the tournament season, there are MIAA site directors at every site who file reports on unusual incidents. At the end of each tournament season, the reports are reviewed by the MIAA.
Wetzel said each school’s athletic director is responsible for assigning the number of monitors for a game during basketball and hockey games.
“We have a sportsmanship area under our tournament formats, and each school is responsible to seeing for it,” Wetzel said.
“We have a list of things that are not allowed, and each athletic director is responsible for knowing it.”
Prohibited items include noisemakers, posters, confetti, and balloons.
Mansfield’s athletic director, Joe Russo, whose boys’ basketball team captured the Division 1 South title, said he enlists five to 10 teachers, coaches, and administrators to pay close attention to the student body.
“The MIAA [rules] are rooted in maintaining a positive atmosphere for the game,” Russo said. “They frown upon cursing and simple stuff like no noisemakers, and they do a great job at looking at what caused a negative atmosphere and eliminated it.’’