DePaul embraces revival of fans at Wintrust Arena


Maddy Maes

DePaul students cheering on the men’s basketball team on Wednesday.

Wintrust Arena has not had any DePaul basketball games with fans in attendance since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Now that fans are back, the rejuvenation of team support and spirit will bring all Wintrust events, including DePaul basketball, a new appreciation of the Wintrust Arena experience.

When entering the arena, there are certain protocols that the school has implemented to make sure fans have a safe experience. Anyone at the age of 2 and above must wear a mask at all times, except when eating or drinking. Cleaning and sanitation stations have been displayed throughout the concourse. The staff moved box office and concession stands to cashless spending and are transitioning things to become more mobile friendly. Arena staff are opening doors earlier to prevent congestion at the gates. Elevators have a limited capacity to expand space for proper distancing.

Athletic director DeWayne Peevy was involved in creating the new procedures and worked with the Big East health advisory committee to make sure the competition is safe on the floor and that the athletes are returning to their campuses safely. Taylor Stapleton, senior associate athletics director for revenue generation and strategic initiatives, elaborated on the policies and procedures DePaul took under consideration to provide a safe space to welcome fans back into the venue.

“It was a very collaborative process,” Stapleton said. “We looked at federal and state guidelines and local guidelines and worked with the university. We looked at other teams around the area and Wintrust arena as well. Vaccinations are strongly encouraged, but not a requirement. Students, staff and employees are under the vaccination requirements. We have backup plans and protocols in place if things change.”

Stapleton is new to DePaul and has gotten his first taste of the gameday atmosphere at the arena. He expressed his excitement of being able to have fans back into the arena.

“It was great to have our fans back,” Stapleton said. “There was a sense of excitement that basketball was back. It is a little different due to the protocols in place but it was an overall excitement and great to have fans back in the arena.”

This year is the first time that Wintrust Arena is hosting the home games for both men’s and women’s basketball teams on a permanent basis. Graduate guard Dee Bekelja expressed excitement of not only having fans back into the arena, but also being able to play home games in the arena on a consistent basis throughout the season.

“Everybody on the team is excited,” Bekelja said. “All of our games are going to be played at Wintrust, which has never been done before. It is a great environment to play in and to have fans in the stands is something special. Having our families and friends there is so much different than it was last year.”

Bekelja admitted that playing in empty arenas last season was off-putting. She described scenarios of the team’s experience, from having to create their own noise and energy due to awkward silence to being in the team huddles, hearing every word that is being said without music or people screaming from the stands. She believes it is harder to play in that environment when you are accustomed to a previous norm that can be helpful for the team.

“Last year was a totally different environment,” Bekelja said. “You’re playing a competitive game but you don’t get the feedback or the excitement from the fans. It is definitely harder playing in an arena that is silent and nobody is there so I think fans are really going to help us out this year.”

One of the biggest losses last year for Bekelja was not having her family in the stands. For her, family always provided support.

“Seeing familiar faces is really cool for us,” Bekelja said. “People that have been coming to your games since you were a freshman and now you are a senior and you are seeing the same people who sit in the front row or courtside. It is really cool to see people who were there year in and year out supporting now, since they couldn’t support last year.”

Since the season started, students have been able to embrace the road back to normalcy at games. Sophomore Ryan Toomey has enjoyed attending games and being able to help lead the movement in the fanatic Blue Crew.

“I like to say things that make people laugh and I like when we jump around and act like we have no brain cells,” Toomey said.

Freshman Nickolas Krueger agrees with Toomey’s sentiment, emphasizing that the unity within the student section is something he is proud to participate in.

“I like it when we are all unified at the beginning of games,” Krueger said. “It is a lot of fun when the whole student section gets crazy.”