Every great student section in college hockey has something unique that makes it great. Whether it’s a creative chant or throwing a fish on the ice after a goal, each and every one of them has something different. Until the 2016-17 season, Denver lacked it. Sure, when CC and North Dakota came to town, the students showed up in force, but that was it. This year, though, despite the on-campus turmoil surrounding what the definition of acceptable school spirit is, Denver’s student section finally found that bit of uniqueness, that which set them apart: the DU Whiteboard.
This year, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, the subject of school spirit was passionately debated and Boone was, once again, brought to the forefront of the argument. What’s acceptable? How can students support their school’s athletics in a respectful way? What’s respectful? Despite all the noise and controversy, the DU Whiteboard, an idea that came from the mind of junior Dustin Weilbach, was born.
If you watched the Pioneers’ domination of Notre Dame in the NCAA Semifinal or their thrilling victory to bring home the program’s eighth national title, you undoubtedly saw Weilbach standing behind a large whiteboard with a creative, funny joke, generally at the expense of DU’s opponent, written on it.
— DU Whiteboard (@DU_Whiteboard) April 7, 2017
The trip to Chicago wasn’t the debut of the popular student section feature, though. The DU Whiteboard made its triumphant debut during the first weekend of 2017 when Denver hosted Arizona State. After the Pioneers handled the Sun Devils that weekend, the new idea became a much-needed student section staple.
“When it became more of a thing, it was surprising because I never really recognized how many people were seeing it,” Weilbach told me in an exclusive interview. “When you’re standing behind the boards, you’re in your own little world. You’re doing your own thing. For the longest time, if it made me laugh, if it made half the student section laugh, it was good enough for me. When the student section is laughing, they’re having a good time, which means they want to stay at the game.”
— DU Whiteboard (@DU_Whiteboard) January 8, 2017
Over the course of the rest of the season, the legend of the DU Whiteboard continued to grow. The hockey team noticed. The Pioneers’ opponents were rattled. And, most importantly, it promoted everything great about school spirit.
“When it became more of an ‘item,’ it was overwhelming to a degree,” Weilbach said. “I hear from the dudes in the zam room, ‘The team’s a big fan of what you do.’ I just rolled my eyes thinking, ‘these guys are just giving me some lip service’ because why would the team care what I’m writing on the board? It’s not for them. It’s 100% for the other team. I don’t want [DU] to have to read the board and be distracted from their game.”
As the Whiteboard’s popularity grew, so did Weilbach’s awareness of its potential. What started as a funny gimmick at hockey games might be able to grow into something much more important and impactful to school spirit. Rather than simply showing up at games to entertain, the Whiteboard could provide something of a foundation for more active school spirit, something Denver has most certainly lacked over the past decade-plus.
— DU Whiteboard (@DU_Whiteboard) February 11, 2017
While the DU Whiteboard’s trip to Chicago for the Frozen Four served as its coming-out party to an extent, Weilbach insists that this is only the beginning. Through the awareness that the Whiteboard has attracted over the course of the final three months of the hockey season and throughout the NCAA Tournament, Weilbach and the DU Whiteboard crew have big plans to help improve the lackluster student section environment.
“I’m hoping this simple concept of the Whiteboard can facilitate a conversation that turns into whatever it needs to be to engage students,” Weilbach said.
On a campus that has recently been obsessed with the “correct” way to do things, perhaps the Whiteboard’s greatest asset and best indicator of future success is its lack of controversy. Because Boone, whose existence is incredibly controversial at University and Evans, is the most visible and most popular symbol at DU games, the door is wide open for a group like the Whiteboard to take over and grab the spotlight. And it’s something that Wielbach has embraced, not necessarily for himself, but for the idea, the concept, the entity that is the DU Whiteboard.
“I think one of the most interesting things about DU is the legacies that they choose to sell to people are very limited,” said Weilbach. “But one of the ones they’re really proud of is the fact that we have the Alpine Club that is a student organization that has existed for 88 years. They love telling people this. I want the Whiteboard to be that new organization where 25 years from now, people are going to say, ‘we have had six years consecutively the best student section in college hockey.’ I think this concept can facilitate that.”
DU Whiteboard’s inception could not have been timed any better. The University of Denver’s athletic program just finished its greatest campaign ever (more on this later this week) and there’s a good chance that thanks to this success and the work of the Whiteboard, DU’s school spirit will be better than it’s ever been.
And that’s saying something. At a school where athletic apathy runs deep and success doesn’t necessarily engender passionate school pride, anything that might give an extra nudge, that extra incentive to show up matters. The DU Whiteboard team is doing incredible things for the student body and it would behoove you to pay attention to that big, white square on the glass.