Lower Merion is a basketball town and Lower Merion Basketball has long been the pride of a fiercely loyal and passionate fan base. LM's huge following during the title runs of the 1930's prompted state officials to change a longstanding rule that rotated state title games between Eastern and Western Pennsylvania. As the state's first Eastern power, LM ignited interest in high school basketball in the Philadelphia area and became known as PIAA's "money team." All championship games henceforth would be played in large Eastern arenas like the Palestra and Convention Hall, and later the Hershey Arena.
Back on campus, Aces fans packed the old Downs Gym from floor to rafters. The gym was the first high school facility in Pennsylvania to have glass backboards and fans in the second floor balcony took advantage of their "window seats" by waving scarves, banners and hands behind the glass to distract opponents. On the floor, less than two feet of clear space separated fans from the sidelines and baselines, making the home court a particularly intimate - and intimidating - venue. To this day, the Aces' student section is known for getting as close as possible to the action and ensuring that opposing players feel their presence.
In 1964, the Downs Gym gave way to a more spacious Main Gym, but the atmosphere was just as raucous. The dominant teams of the late 60's and 70's attracted loud, large crowds that rocked the noisy wooden bleachers. Chants like "Raise the Roof, 100 Proof" and "LM Will Shine Tonight" sent the fans into a fever pitch. One of the defining features of the Main Gym was a stage that peered over the team benches. Opponents would turn around to face a large student section hovering right above their heads.
Eventually, the distinct student section would come to be known as the Dawg Pound. In the fall of 1999, Coach Gregg Downer met with the team and a group of student fan leaders to officially launch "The Pound." More than just a "student section," the Pound would lead chants, promote games, organize tailgates and road trips and design official t-shirts like a college-style student fan club. Fueled by their energized student fan base, the 1999-00 Aces rode the spirit and enthusiasm of "Dawg Pound I" to 15 consecutive wins, a Central League title, and a state playoff bid.
Year in and year out, the Dawg Pound helps give the Aces a distinct home court advantage. Each year brings a new style and design to the official Dawg Pound shirt. Each year leaders emerge at the forefront of the Dawg Pound, donning crazy costumes (Captain America, Superman, Batman, etc.) and sharing their unrelenting vocal chords and witty cheers.
During the Cinderella playoff run of 2004-05, the Dawg Pound caught the state's attention for travelling en masse to far-flung gyms. Playing in the Western bracket, the Aces were forced to journey hundreds of miles for their games. No distance proved too great as busload after busload of fans showed up -- including 12 student buses (nearly 700 total students) for a Tuesday night game against Erie Prep at State College.
While the student section will forever be the Dawg Pound, the combined efforts of the students, families, faculty, and all members of the community led Coach Downer to coin the term "Aces Nation" when referring to Lower Merion supporters.
Aces Nation continues to grow. Aceshoops.com, and the Aces team pages on Facebook and Twitter have given thousands of fans, family and friends 24/7 access to all things Aces. Fans far and wide - from Japan to Brazil - have purchased Aces Nation t-shirts online. A youth basketball team in Orange County, CA wears LM gear and proudly calls themselves "The Aces."
Of course, the best way to enjoy the fan experience is to be part of the action in person. And there's no better time than now, as the program and school community create new traditions in the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium. We hope to see you at the next Aces home game and thank you for being part of the greatest high school fan base in Pennsylvania.