Calvin College

Calvin-Hope arena game tops all expectations

by Phil DeHaan

The Calvin-Hope game has been an eagerly anticipated tradition on campus for over 75 years. The two schools share a mutual respect for each other -- a respect forged by close geographical proximity, common educational missions and, of course, superb basketball traditions. The first game of the 1997 season added a new chapter to the storied Calvin-Hope history as Calvin moved its home game downtown for the first time in over three decades, taking the rivalry from the friendly confines of Calvin Fieldhouse to the brand new Van Andel Arena.

At first school officials worried that perhaps the new Arena -- home to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the International Hockey League and the Grand Rapids Hoops of the Continental Basketball Association -- might be too big for the Calvin-Hope game. Van Andel Arena holds almost 12,000 for basketball games, while Calvin Fieldhouse, the biggest gym in the MIAA, holds 4,500. Turns out the worries were unnecessary. The contest sold out seven weeks prior to tip-off. On game night, 11,442 people were in the house -- the largest crowd ever to witness an NCAA Division III basketball game.

Knowing so far ahead of time that the game was a sell-out enabled Calvin officials to get creative with other ways to present the contest to loyal fans. West Michigan audiences were able to catch all the action on the Grand Rapids ABC affiliate. But, this year, the game went global as Calvin's webmaster Kyle Vanderbeek lead a team of computer experts and graphic artists in taking the rivalry to the internet. Prior to the game Vanderbeek put the Calvin-Hope history, rosters, results, player's pictures and more on Calvin's homepage. Then, during the game, he kept that site constantly updated -- sending pictures, stats, notes and the score from courtside to Calvin's network, so that interested fans around the world, literally, could check out the action.

Although Calvin wondered how that effort would be received, it too exceeded all expectations. Some 88,000 hits during the game nearly shut Calvin's computer system down as fans from across the U.S. and Canada, as well as Europe, came to to take part in the Calvin-Hope rivalry.

Vanderbeek's e-mail the next day was full of compliments, including some Hope alumni who congratulated the school for putting the pressure on Hope to present a similar package (they did). One alum in California noted that her phone was ringing non-stop between 5 and 8 PST. Other Calvin friends knew that she and her husband had internet access and were "watching" the game. Their window on the rivalry then was passed along via voice to other Calvin fans in the state of California. As an added bonus, she saw her brother in the stands on one of the pictures posted to the site.

The only downer to the whole night was the final score as the Knights dropped a hard-fought decision to the Flying Dutchmen.