December 4, 2003

Coach Urges Tossing Toys, Not Fish

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Blustery winter weather has blanketed Ithaca for the past week, but if the athletic department has it’s way, it’ll be raining cats and dogs inside Lynah Rink this Saturday night — stuffed cats and dogs.

In an effort to curb fan-incurred penalties and help area children, Cornell’s athletic department has asked season ticket holders to bring and throw stuffed animals onto the ice. The idea comes in the wake of warnings from the ECAC.

“Cornell is on notice that if the game is delayed because of fish on the ice or if other disruptive, unsportsmanlike conduct from the fans occurs … The Big Red will be penalized,” wrote head ticket manager Gene Nighman ’81 in an e-mail to student season ticket holders.

Yet while the main memorandum was sent by Nighman, the swap of stuffed animals for fish originated with a group of people, most notably among them, men’s hockey head coach Mike Schafer ’86. For the coach, the idea is a chance to show off the Cornell’s class, and improve it’s league image.

“What our program stands for is first class. We try to treat our players with class, the University treats our athletes with class, and everything we do is great,” he said. “We’re constantly trying to improve our program.”

After seeing similar programs succeed at professional sporting events, the idea became something Schafer and several other athletic department administrators discussed last year.

“At the Christmas time especially, if the fans all brought stuffed animals and threw them onto the ice at the start of the game, there were 400 or 500 of them, and we were able to turn them around and be a benefit to the community, it’d be a great event,” Schafer said.

Nighman cited the donation as a way for students to start a new tradition, and avoid ejection from the game.

“Instead of wasting money on fish, risking ejection from the rink or having the team penalized, why not help start a new tradition?” he asked in his e-mail.

Schafer, who was a hockey team captain during his time at Cornell, mentioned he enjoys and respects tradition, but also sees this weekend as an opportunity for fans to give back.

“The tradition is great, and throwing fish is part of that tradition, but it’d be awesome to see us help so many kids in town who are less fortunate,” he said. “It’d be a nice gesture during a great rivalry.”

Archived article by Matt Janiga