BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
The most unique crowd of the Arkansas women’s basketball season will make its appearance Friday at Bud Walton Arena.
Arkansas (1-0) will host Murray State (0-0) in the Razorbacks’ annual Elementary School Day, which features a 10:30 a.m. tip off.
A record-breaking 7,300 kids are expected to be on hand for the game with Razorback head coach Mike Neighbors hoping the total crowd tops 10,000 for the fifth time in school history.
“I’m going to implore everybody to take an early day off on Friday, get some ear plugs, brush up on your Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry (lyrics) and learn the hand signals for Baby Shark,” Neighbors said. “Because it’s coming.”
Arkansas is 11-0 in Elementary Day home games and 2-0 its previous games against Murray State, who will be playing its season opener on Friday.
The Razorbacks all-time single-game attendance record is 14,163 fans when they downed Wisconsin 67-64 in the WNIT championship game on March 23, 1999.
Neighbors gives Elvis Moya, the Arkansas Associate Athletic Director of Community Outreach and Fan Engagement and his team credit for managing the bus transportation and Elementary Day management duties, which is a lot different than a normal Arkansas women’s game.
That includes Julie Cain, the Associate Athletic Director of Event Management.
“Elvis and his team have done an amazing job,” Neighbors said. “…The number of people that volunteer to work our game on Friday, you are going to see head coaches out there, high-level administrators out there with signs up saying which school they are leading in and out.
“The number of people it takes to pull off the traffic flow – Julie Cain and her team, y’all it is not an easy thing to do. I don’t if the concession has enough caffeine to give these kids. They are going to be out of school on a Friday.”
Arkansas opened its season with a 81-76 home win over the University of Louisiana-Monroe on Tuesday with freshman guard Tahlia Scott scoring 29 points and redshirt sophomore Saylor Poffenbarger grabbing a career-high 21 rebounds.
Poffenbarger played in last season’s 72-44 win over the University of Central Arkansas in a game that set an Elementary Day attendance record with 7,410.
She will have some friendly faces on hand with her Godmother’s family from Benton, Kentucky, in the stands to see Poffenbarger and Murray State junior guard Cayson Conner, a former Benton Marshall County star.
“All my family is coming to the game and I told them y’all better be prepared,” Poffenbarger said. “I think it is so fun because we don’t play in front of a big crowd a lotted having the noise, even though it is kid noise, it does feel like you are in a full arena.
“Their energy is so great and they are so happy. They don’t know who they are cheering for, they just want to be there. I think it just creates a cool environment. I know when I was young that I would have loved to go a game like this.”
Murray State is led by preseason first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection Katelyn Young, has 10 upperclassman on its roster and 11 returnees from a team that finished 15-16 last season.
Arkansas native and Nettleton all-time leading scorer Briley Pena is a sophomore guard for the Racers will likely see some unexpected cheers come their way.
“Those kids will cheer for them as much as they do us,” Neighbors said. “That is one thing I have learned in my years. They don’t necessarily know what is going on, but they know they are out of school.
“They know that if they get back – through most teachers from what I have heard – the rest of the day when they do get back from school, it is a wash.”
Photo by John D. James