The Dragons’ home since 1975, the Daskalakis Athletic Center, is a mouthful. Students, alumni, local sports aficionados and the like abbreviate the name by calling it the “DAC.”
It may not be the regal and fabled Palestra, but the DAC certainly packs a punch, as do its patrons. The most notable of these patrons are the DAC Pack, the yellow-clad student section that raises hell at every Drexel home game.
You can find them decked out in their signature yellow T-shirts, sponsored by Ed’s Buffalo Wings & Pizza, a campus favorite. Some games draw more support than others, but a typical turnout brings around 150 students to cheer for the Dragons.
But the group hasn’t always been there. The DAC Pack’s story began during a time of great change in the Drexel men’s basketball program, when the team was searching for a new identity.
Storied head coach Bill Herrion left the program following the 1998-99 season to continue his career at East Carolina University, a move that would, in retrospect, prove his time at Drexel to be the peak of his powers.
During his tenure, Herrion led the Dragons to four America East Conference titles and three NCAA Tournament berths, including Drexel’s only NCAA Tournament game win in 1996 over the University of Memphis in the Round of 64.
Upon his departure, Steve Seymour, an assistant to Herrion since day 1 at Drexel, was the clear-cut successor. However, as he inherited a strong team, expectations were high for Seymour. His teams went 28-29 in two seasons under his tutelage, and he was fired March 7, 2001.
Bruiser Flint was hired to replace Seymour, and the change began. In the offseason before the 2001-02 season, Drexel left the America East Conference and moved to the Colonial Athletic Association.
It was a big year for Drexel basketball, fans included. Because in 2001, the creation of the DAC Pack was in the works.
“2001-02 was when we got together and met,” Brian Crownover, one of the 10 original members of the DAC Pack, said. “The spring after that season was when we officially started the group. Mike Wychulis, Roland Warzel, Bill Martin, Nick Intrieri, Marissa Flynn, Preston Carter, Leon Mukkadan, Kevin McMenamin and myself.”
The lull in quality basketball after Herrion’s departure hit the student body hard; the euphoria that his NCAA Tournament runs brought to the campus had disappeared. When this particular group of students decided to take matters into their own hands, the change was statistically significant.
In the DAC Pack’s first official season — the 2002-03 campaign — Flint’s boys went from a 14-14 record the year before to a 19-12 record and made their first appearance in the National Invitation Tournament since 1997.
Was there a direct correlation? It’s impossible to say. But it’s also hard not to believe it.
“It’s pretty important that these guys went out and started the DAC Pack when almost nobody cared about basketball or Drexel pride,” Drexel alumnus Rob Falcone said. “That changed Drexel for the better.”
The program grew, and Flint’s squads began piling up the wins. The DAC Pack had restored faith in the men’s basketball team, and the team had restored the fans’ faith as well. It was mutual belief at work.
On the doorstep of 11 seasons later, the founding members would be proud of how far the group has come.
In 2012, not only was the student section named the best in Philadelphia by PhilaHoops.com, but it reached the top 16 in a nationwide vote. That same year, the Dragons reached the National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals after narrowly missing out on a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Both the team and the student section reached new heights.
The continued respect and mutual appreciation between the two parties is what makes a good portion of the student body join up and embrace their Dragon pride.
This year’s DAC Pack president, senior David Morrison, expresses the cheering section as a way to show the nation how Drexel students represent the Blue and Gold.
“I have a lot of pride in Drexel as a school in general, and I feel like Drexel gets a bad reputation for not having any school spirit,” he said. “I think the DAC Pack provides a great avenue to rally the school around one cause.”
And beyond the embrace of school spirit, Morrison believes that the DAC Pack actually provides a bona fide statistical advantage for the Dragons.
“Coming home to the DAC has been historically advantageous for our teams,” Morrison said. “Excluding last year, we rarely lost at home during my stay at Drexel.”
He is correct. Since the beginning of the 2004-05 season, the Dragons have piled up a 76-35 record at home, good for a staggering .685 winning percentage.
Flint does not want to take the home-court advantage for granted, either; he knows how special the DAC Pack is.
“Everybody talks about how our place is one of the toughest places to play in the league,” the head coach said. “Not just because of the way our gym is, but I think we’ve got one of the best student sections, if not the best student section, in the league. They’re on top of you, they’re loud, it gets hot in there, and they make you uncomfortable.”
On game days, the DAC packs 2,532 fans into a small, mid-major college basketball arena. The fans in the first row on the bleacher side are just a few feet from the players on inbound plays.
The proximity gives the members of the DAC Pack an increased edge in the intimidation game. They research opposing players, pick on their weaknesses, and never let an airball go by without relentless ridicule.
The DAC Pack’s antics sometimes get so intense and effective that senior point guard Frantz Massenat said he can’t help but occasionally see what they’re up to.
“You notice everything they do,” he said. “Especially when I come out for a couple of seconds, I notice everything they say, and when I’m in the game I notice it a lot, too.
“When we score or when the other team does something wrong or they’re shooting free throws, … we kind of laugh at what they’re doing. They’re loyal fans, and they always bring it for us.”
Flint has a different kind of relationship with the DAC Pack during the game. Once he steps on the court, he said he’s only thinking about the game in front of him, but the DAC Pack has never given him a reason to doubt their intensity.
“When I’m in the game, I’m in the game,” Flint said. “But I know we’re [going to] have a good student section pretty much every night, screaming and shouting.”
It’s that kind of consistency and respect that has brought the Dragons and their ardent supporters so close. Massenat said he couldn’t see the men’s basketball program where it is without the DAC Pack.
“I think when you think of Drexel basketball, you think of the DAC Pack as well,” the point guard said. “You have to go play at Drexel, you have to think, ‘Oh, the fans are going to be all over me,’ and they make it hard to play against.”
The Dragons open their home slate Dec. 4 against Cleveland State University, a mid-major litmus test early in the season.
This year, be sure to attend a home basketball game. Stand in the DAC Pack. Feel the bleachers shake, hear your ears ring, and get swept up in the crowd’s contempt for those pesky Blue Hens from Delaware.
Eventually, the blinding yellow T-shirt will feel like your own uniform.