Thomas Norton, former president of the Mercer Maniacs, cheers on the Mercer basketball men’s basketball team during a game last season.

Image: Katie Atkinson

Thomas Norton, former president of the Mercer Maniacs, cheers on the Mercer basketball men’s basketball team during a game last season.

Mercer Maniacs welcome changes, new leaders

September 6, 2016

Chants of “I believe that we will win” ring out in the arena. The streamers are tossed high into the air. Somewhere in the sea of orange and black, the Mercer Maniacs are going wild for their team.

”We are the student spirit group. We are not an exclusive group — anyone who likes to cheer on the athletes is a Mercer Maniac. We just try and create a good environment for the students as well as the athletes,” said Thomas Norton, former president of the Mercer Maniacs.

This has allowed students to arrive in the stands and immediately feel at home with the group.

“[The] Maniacs give us all the chance to come together as one student body and cheer for and represent the university we love,” former member Tori Konrad said. “As Maniacs we aren’t defined by the student organizations we’re involved in, we’re all Mercerians, and we are all there to cheer on the Bears.”

The group has grown from a select few that at the time was named “Hoffman’s Hooligans”. The last of the founding members are graduating and moving onto the next phase of their life.

The Maniacs recently put new leadership into place. The now-former president of the Maniacs, Thomas Norton, walked across the stage. But now he is looking back on the times that he had in the stands.

“It feels like a lot of things. Naturally, it’s incredibly hard to come to grips with the fact that I won’t be so heavily involved with Mercer athletics and the Maniacs [this] year. This organization, these people, have become such an integral part of my life.” Norton said.

Despite the changes, Norton said he is confident that the new wave of Maniacs will carry on the legacy that he and his friends leave behind. At the start of last year, they actually elected a group of three people to the executive board that will be returning next year.

“I think the transition will go quite smoothly into [this] year,” Norton said. “We have three returning executive members from [last] year, and two of the three new executive members have been heavily involved with the running of events for a couple of years and are experienced in making sure things go smoothly.”

Two years ago, Norton was in a similar position as he got ready to take over the reigns from then president Blaze Jeffery. At the time, Norton was not as confident that he could make such a smooth transition for the group.

“The biggest challenge is just getting used to a shift in responsibility. At the beginning of my service as president, I was really unsure of myself and, complete transparency, I thought I was going to be a huge letdown,” Norton said. “I didn’t think I could ever fill the shoes that were left before me; I just wasn’t the same kind of leader as the guys before me.”

Norton believes that Jane Gibson, the new president, will be able to transition into the role with ease. Gibson served as the Maniacs’ secretary and vice president of finances.

“Jane will not be the same kind of president as me, and I think that’s a great thing,” Norton said. “I think that through her own management and planning skills, she’ll be able to take the Maniacs in places that I would have never thought of. It’ll take time, but they’ll get there.”

Gibson is already looking forward to taking the lead, she said. Gibson, a junior, will look to carry on the legacy of those leaving.

“[Last] year, we have really worked to branch out to sports other than football and basketball,” Gibson said. “I hope to expand this and continue to work with athletics to increase attendance and participation at all sporting events.”

Gibson has received pointers from Norton and stressed the importance of building relationships with organizations across campus.

“Thomas has taught me that communication and collaboration are key for Maniacs. We work very closely with athletics, so I will need to be in constant communication with them,” Gibson said.

“Maniacs have successfully collaborated with SGA [Student Government Association] in the past, so Thomas has stressed the importance of continuing to partner with SGA.”

Gibson said that the founding members will be missed but knows that their school spirit will remain strong.

“It [was] sad to watch founding members graduate, but our founding members will continue to be Maniacs from their respective locations,” Gibson said. “Maniacs are dedicated to the Bears, so I am confident that our founding members will continue to keep the Bears in their hearts, attend some sporting events and tune in to
games on ESPN3.”

This group of graduates are gone, but the memories will remain with them as well. Both Konrad and Norton said that the Duke game in 2014 was their favorite memory.

“I cried. It was such a great moment to be a Mercerian and it put Mercer on the map.” Konrad said.

Outside of the Duke victory, both offered up other moments that they enjoyed.

For Konrad, she will never forget the first football game. She says that being a part of the Maniacs helped her become a college football fan again.

“The first football game was pretty wonderful as well. I remember everyone lined up outside the brand new stadium waiting for tickets,” Konrad said. “We didn’t even have cheers for the football plays yet, we were learning how to be college football fans all over, but the love of Mercer was undeniable.”

Norton on the other hand brought up a memory from his last year at Mercer.

During women’s basketball games when the student section was bare at times, Norton could be found cheering on the team.

When he was approached by other student organizations to help put on an event to pack out a game he jumped at the chance.

The Chattanooga Mocs had gone over 55 straight games without a loss in the Southern Conference, but with the help of the Maniacs, the Bears toppled the Mocs.

“At that game, I realized it was truly possibly to shift our fan culture to encompass more than just the main sports that always have a good student turnout,” Norton said. “It was at that moment when I saw all the work so many people had put into changing the student-fan environment come to fruition. I know that game will serve as a landmark event for the Maniacs.”

While the next generation of Maniacs take over, Konrad and Norton will miss being as involved with the Maniacs.

Konrad says she found her home away from home in the student section, as well as the kick line where students stand arm in arm singing songs after a Mercer win.

“I’ll really miss ‘The Georgia on my Mind’ kick line,” Konrad said. “Georgia’s been my adopted state for 4 years and I’m moving away again, but I know that the song will always have a special place in my heart because of all the great victories that we celebrated singing together.”

Norton is not excited about leaving the Maniacs but says he knows that it is in good hands now with Gibson and others at the helm.

“As much as I want to stay here forever and continue to do these type of things, change has to happen,” Norton said. “It had to happen for me to get where I am at now, and it has to happen for the next wave of Maniacs. I will miss it, but I am eager to see where it goes.”

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