‘These are my lions’

These are my lions

‘These are my lions’

They are the reason for the home court advantage.

As the Missouri Southern Lions basketball team barrels onto the court, Vernon Greer creaks into his seat in the front row. A maturing Southern green baseball cap emblazoned with “make some noise,” shields his creased mahogany face as he situates himself with a hot dog and soda.

“Ain’t nothing better than a MSSU hot dog,” he says, “You’ve just gotta have the relish.”

Greer is one of the small legion of fans that wear their green and gold in support of the Lions basketball team at each home game.

His muscles ache, and the plastic seat hurts his back despite his foam stadium seat cushion. As long as his body will allow, he says he’ll sit in “his seat” behind the bench.

“I’m an old, old man, and these are my Lions,” Greer said.

Greer is not alone in his dedication to Lions athletics. Fans like Bob Laptad line the court for practices and games alike. Laptad has been a Lions fan since the late 1960s and is involved with basketball, football, cross-country and track. When he’s not out on the golf course he’s watching the women’s basketball practice, and he follows their progress from the beginning of the season to the end.

“I’m here every afternoon for at least three or four hours,” Laptad said. Coaches shake his hand. Other fans smile as they walk by his seat and players like India Wood salute him with a nod and a quick wave as he offers them his congratulations. He’s been well acquainted with the coaching staff since Jim Frasier’s years as head football coach and speaks fondly of current head coach, Dr. Bart Tatum and the rest of the Southern coaches.

“They just make it a joy to come out here and see these kids develop,” he said.

These fans watch generations of athletes play and some like Southern Alum Chris Belk (’88) raise their own families in the front row of Southern athletics.

“It’s a family atmosphere, and we look forward to it every year,” Belk said, “My son grew up high-fiving the players as they came off the court.”

For Alumni like Belk, Southern games are also a place to reconnect with college friends.

“There are a lot of friendships I renew every year here at Legget & Platt, it’s definitely a fraternal group.”

However not all Lions fans have passed through Southern’s classrooms, at least not yet. Dana Stiles, daughter of Judy Stiles, production manager of KGCS, has been attending Southern games “since she can remember.” Now, as a middle school basketball player, she attends Southern basketball camp and hopes to one day take the field or court in Lions softball, basketball or volleyball.

“I got to see how well I play and what I need to work on,” Stiles said.

Even before many fans arrive at the arena Jim Zerkel was outside with his grill hooked up to the back of his black Ford Super Duty. He travels with a grill and smoker among other things and Folgers coffee cans cover the smoke stacks. Metallic gold Lions, traced from a print out on Zerkels home computer, roar from the cast iron top while Zerkel and others cook 500 hot dogs for player’s fans and coaches.

“I’ve been a Lions fan for years, and I just enjoy the cooking,” Zerkel says as he hooks the grill trailer to his truck with chains.

Other fans like Brice Snow watch every game with rapt attention, and raise their arms high for every shot made. Even when the Lions aren’t on top of their game the die-hard fans still claim their seats.

“I’m not going to say I don’t get frustrated, but I never drop them,” Belk said.

While the Lions leave the court to grab one of Zerkels hotdogs, Greer pulls himself from his seat, hunches over and walk toward the double doors.

Though he prides himself on hardly ever missing a game, this year he admits “his seat” may have go empty for some games. Despite his aged hobble, he holds the door open for fans leaving the arena and turns back to look at the emptying court.

He knows he can’t make it to every game this season, but in his words – “Thank God for television.”