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TCU Riff Ram Fam Changes Game Day

Those college kids in the crazy overalls? They have become a huge part of the student section and the gameday experience as a whole. And it's about a lot more than standing on ladders and getting loud; these students and the entire operations crew do it all - in the crowd and behind the scenes.

Sometimes in life, you have to go off script.

It's the fourth quarter of a game that many expected to be a blowout, but SMU has clawed their way back into it, and the home crowd is getting antsy. Assistant Director of Athletics Marketing, Jackie Torda, is part of a team that has a call to make - do you go with the scheduled on-field presentation and risk taking the crowd out of it at the next time out? Or do you pump up the volume? The Frogs make a huge play on offense and the clock stops; it's the game day crew's time to make the choice - if you were in the stadium you might know the answer: more music, more dancing, more noise.

Two years ago, after suffering through a lackluster season and a less than advantageous home field advantage, the TCU Athletics and Marketing Departments made a concerted effort to pursue change. One of the people at the forefront of that effort was 2010 graduate Torda, a former student-athlete and the sixth leading goal-scorer in TCU Soccer history. Recalling the way the crowd impacted her during her playing days, when it wasn't unusual for 2,000 people to pack the pitch for the Frog's women's soccer matches, Torda, among others, saw a need to improve the in-stadium environment. "We had trouble filling (Amon G Carter Stadium) before kick-off, and having the team run out to a bunch of empty seats wasn't something we wanted to see". TCU sought out a consultant who specializes in collegiate game day environments - from students, to spirit, to marketing, and even camera placement. His suggestion? Capitalize off of what was happening on the field, and be willing to adjust on the fly. TCU agreed, and a whole new philosophy was born.

That philosophical shift has possibly been most noticeable in the student section; what was once a half-full wasteland of disinterested students, has become the heart and soul of the entire stadium. Led by the Riff Ram Fam, a group of ten students charged with leading chants, cheers, and keeping the stadium rocking, the student section has given TCU a distinct home field advantage. And it hasn't gone unnoticed by the players, or their head coach. Last season, Coach Patterson began a new tradition, throwing a game ball into the student section after home games - a ritual that has continued to the present day. When he was handed the mic after the Frogs secured a share of the Big XII Championship a year ago, his opening salvo was "First of all, I love you!" - directed at the hearty group of students and fans that had stormed the field in the celebration. Patterson knows that facilities, gear, program success, and coaches are a big part of the equation when it comes to winning over recruits - but playing in front of a frenzied crowd weighs heavily as well. And when you are competing against schools who boast stadiums that seat twice the number of the cozy confines of Hell's Half Acre, however many butts you put in the seat better bring it.

TCU has always been a late arriving kind of crowd, one who enjoyed their halftime on the outside of the gates, and would often mosey back in late in the third quarter, if at all. And if the game was a blowout or the weather touching triple digits? Forget about it. But now, just two short years after that empty stadium photo went viral, you hear more complaints from fans about not being able to get tickets than you do of people not using them. Last year, the Frogs averaged 44,719 fans per game, and exceeded capacity in four of the seven home games they played. Fans responded to the new in-game entertainment, as the behind the scenes team focused on popular music, more face time for "crazy" fans in the stands, special in-game events and entertainment, and special messages through the video board - including the exceedingly popular and frenzy-inducing "Riff Ram" videos (which have quickly become my favorite in-game tradition).

While some score and weather related issues are still being worked on, most fans will tell you it's a world of difference from their days as a student. And a lot of that credit goes to the Riff Ram Fam. What was once just three kids tapped to try and help just days before the opening game in 2014, is now a ten person ensemble who had to pass a screening and tryout process this past spring. Arriving two and a half hours prior to game time, the Fam is let into the stadium by Torda, and commences the work of setting up their ladders, organizing their signs and giveaways, and determining who will be in what section when. They also gather any special props - in the hot weather you'll see them with mist sprayer backpacks on that they use to cool off the crowd, and they have promised some special surprises for the blackout game against WVU Thursday night as well. When the gates open two hours prior to kickoff, the student leaders haul boxes of rally towels and any other giveaways to the gates to hand them out to incoming students, preparing the crowd to get loud. "During the game we try to keep the energy up and get chants going to get behind our defense. We stand the whole time and try to keep moving around. We want to pass our energy onto the crowd which in turn passes the energy back to our players," said Kate Colley, Riff Ram Fam leader.

That formerly late-arriving crowd? It still exists in some sectors, but the student section is jammed back from the time the gates open, as students jockey for a spot in the sardine-packed bleachers.

We love to see the students having fun and enjoying the game! We each have a section that we stand by during the entire game. Since the first game till now the students have been awesome! The signs, chants, and outfits have been creative and it shows how much school spirit TCU students have. We look forward to what the students bring to the table with these last few home games. We are always thinking of new ideas to bring to the games! The last half of the season will be fun! We love trying new things with the students and without a doubt we have the best student section! - Fairrin Thomas, '18

For Torda, the memories of her playing days are about more than just her on-field success, but more so the pride of being a Horned Frog and the support she received from the TCU and Fort Worth community - so coming back home to join the athletic department was a perfect fit and dream come true. Torda has used her experience as a student-athlete to cultivate a philosophical change in the stadium as a whole and more specifically the student section, starting with the Riff Ram Fam (formerly the Amp It Uppers). From that first trio of students who bought in without knowing exactly what they needed to be, Torda has helped developed a crew that is far more involved in the flow of the game than anyone would have imagined; given the freedom to be carefree and trust their instincts the Riff Ram Fam has flourished. "Last year, we found three guys kind of randomly. We didn't exactly know what we needed, but they became a great example of what we wanted from the group", Torda said.

"It’s amazing to be leading the fans. I wanted to get involved as much as possible with the student section. I've always had great school spirit in the stands since I was in high school. I needed to step out of my comfort zone coming to college. I knew I needed to do more with my great ideas and lots of school spirit." - Fairrin Thomas, '17

For us 'older' alums, it has been a revelation. From Frog Alley, to the giant flag, to those incredible overhead shots when the student section is in full throat, what was once an environment present only in the biggest games has become the norm. The credit for the dramatic change goes to the kids in the purple overalls, Jackie Torda, Drew Martin, and the countless other staff behind the scenes and in the stands. The mission isn't accomplished by any stretch, but every home game gets TCU Football one step closer to where they want to be, on and off the field.

And this Thursday will be no different - with the three previous conference match-ups having been decided by five total points, including two overtime games and last season's last second thriller, the Frogs will need a loud, proud, and somewhat insane crowd to get the first win by the home team in the series and keep their championship dreams alive. Get there early, stay late, and be LOUDER. Go Frogs!