Thunder Fans Show Enthusiasm

Scott Linesburgh
Staff Writer
The Stockton Record

STOCKTON, Calif. – Thunder fans know that wearing yellow wigs, chanting the team name and painting signs on your body does not necessarily guarantee victory.

But they’re having a heck of a time trying.

The Thunder expects more than 8,000 fans for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game against the Dayton Bombers. Hard to believe for the team with the worst record in the ECHL. They are second in the league in attendance, and many fans simply don’t care that their favorite team doesn’t win.

They say they are proud to have a team and a new arena, expect the Thunder to struggle in the inaugural season and want to have a good time.

“You can call it a party,” said Joe Piombo of Linden, a member of the “Thunder Boys,” a group of friends who paint letters on their chests to spell out the name of the team.

“You’ve got people wearing yellow wigs, everyone is screaming, and we’re up there with our shirts off at a hockey game. That’s a party.”

They keep partying no matter what’s on the scoreboard, and many times it gets downright ugly for the home team. The Thunder has a record of 8-33-11 and has won two of its 26 home games.

But losing hasn’t led to empty seats. The Thunder is averaging 5,943 fans, second only to the Florida Everblades, who have averaged 6,042 fans per game en route to a 35-18-3 record.

“It doesn’t matter that they lose,” said Chad Crawford of Manteca, a season-ticket holder. “It’s a new team. You expect them to struggle. This is a great time, and on the nights when there’s a big crowd, they are part of the show. Some of them really get into it.”

The “Thunder Boys” surely get into the festive mood. What they spell out, “Thunder” or “Go Thunder” is decided after they see how many members of their group show up.

“We do it to show the players that we’re behind them, and we have 13 people lined up,” Matt Allen said. “Our hope is to get 15, so we can spell out ‘Stockton Thunder.’ That’s the dream.”

Others have joined the spelling game. A group of women wore black shirts with gold lettering to a recent game and spelled out “Fight.”

“We did it for fun,” Layla Derreja said. “We’d wait until a couple of players started pushing each other, and then we’d stand up.”

Thunder president Dan Chapman marvels at what he sees.

“I walk around and see how inventive they are, and you’ll hear them break out in spontaneous chants,” Chapman said. “It creates an electric atmosphere.”

Fans give a variety of reasons for supporting the Thunder. Some are hockey fans who have been waiting for a team; others are trying to support the team and the new arena.

Stockton resident Steve Mervin said the Thunder’s attendance proves sports fans in the area will support the new teams.

“I think this area was looking for something like this, and the people have responded,” Mervin said. “This is a good sports town, and they are proving it. I think the players know we’re behind them.”

Thunder forward Aaron Foster said the players see the large crowd and hear the cheers, and they wish they could pay back their fans with some wins.

“Our fans are the best, and we wish we could win for them,” Foster said. “They certainly deserve it.”

The lack of success on the ice hasn’t turned off the fans, but Chapman said he knows people expect the team to improve. And they’ll have to after the honeymoon ends.

One person who believes the Thunder will continue the momentum at the gate is Stockton native George Sandoval, a vice president for the Alaska Aces.

“The organization there is very strong,” he said. “They’ve done an excellent job and as long as the fans are enjoying themselves, they’ll be fine.”

The fans of the Stockton Thunder are having a good time, and they believe the wins will come.

“They’ll get better, we know that,” Crawford said. “We’ll wait for them. They are our team.”