Fort Wayne experienced some of its basketball past and its basketball present during a game in February at the Wayne County War Memorial Coliseum. Fort Wayne is home for one the NBA-D League franchises, the Mad Ants. Now, frankly, I had no idea why Fort Wayne would be known for ants and what would make them so mad.
Is Fort Wayne known for tidy picnics? Turns out, Fort Wayne (both the city and the actual fort) is named for General Anthony Wayne, who was known as “Mad Anthony.” I guess he was known for having a bit of a temper. See, sports can entertain AND inform. So, the team is named for him, in a fun, kinda, sorta way, as the “Mad Ants.” So the Mad Ants are Fort Wayne’s basketball present, and we hope are the future, because they seem like a really cool organization.
Each NBA-D teams is affiliated with one or more NBA teams, and that’s where Fort Wayne’s basketball “past” comes in. One of the teams that the Mad Ants are affiliated with is the Detroit Pistons. However, they weren’t always the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons began life as the Fort Wayne Pistons, from 1941 until they moved to Detroit in 1957. The Pistons had a colorful history in Fort Wayne of enthusiastic fans, winning teams, and rumors of point shaving and throwing games.
One of the great things about many of the NBA-D franchises is that they often host “affiliate nights,” when the entertainment squads of their parent NBA franchises come for a visit. The Mad Ants had the Bucks entertainment groups, including the Energee, visiting in January; the Pistons night, including the Automotion dance squad, was in February; and Pacers affiliate night with their mascots is in March. So the Pistons affiliate night was a great opportunity to see the home town dance squad, the Madame Ants, and the visiting Automotion.
The Madame Ants are lead by dance team coach Sheenah Johnson, who IS dance in Fort Wayne. Sheenah is a former Indiana Pacemate, the coach of the squads at Snider High School and Indiana Tech at the college level, and is one of the co-owners of a family owned innovative dance studio. But, in the tradition of great player-coaches like Bill Russell, she is not just coach, she is dancer-coach, out there performing with her Madame Ants squad.
On this night, fans entering the arena were greeted by the Madame Ants, who were handing out free stuff to fans, like Mad Ants towels and other stuff to wave and bother free throw shooters. There was live music also, to which the talented Madame Ants couldn’t help but move to the beat as they greeted fans.
As the starting line-ups were introduced, the lights went down, and the Madame Ants were joined by the Automotion, and the spot lights hit both squads. The Automotion is an impressive group, and I would think, certainly the best of the best dancers in Detroit. I cannot think of another city with all of the “Big 4” sports that only has one dance squad, other than the Automotion being THE dance squad in Detroit. Director Rebecca Girrard has put together a wonderful squad of talented, personable, friendly, outgoing, and classy dancers, who represent their team and city brilliantly.
At my first NBA-D game, I soon learned it was not a laid back affair. Sitting behind the scorer’s table, we all jumped when the Mad Ant’s coach slammed his fist on the table in reaction to a referee’s call. A little of the Mad Anthony’s demeanor was in the house.
It was double the fun, double the talent, double the beauty, having both the Automotion and Madame Ants performing on the court. The Automotion really put on a show, not only performing their routines, but serving as competitors against fans during game breaks. Pairs of dancers participated in both a piggyback race and a race where they had carry basketballs between their mid-sections and race sideways. At halftime, the Automotion signed autographs on the concourse to the pleasure and appreciation of the Fort Wayne locals.
My Center Court Standout of the game for the Madame Ants was Carly, who not only is a fun and excellent performer on the court, but was grooving to the live music in the concourse before the game, showing her dancer’s soul. But the entire Madame Ants squad is great, and it was a pleasure to get to see them.
Selecting the Center Court Standout of the game for the Automotion was equally tough, so I have to go with co-Standouts. Three year vet Megan shines on the court and was full of smiles as she participated in the races against fans. Also, one is immediately struck by Rene, a tall beautiful dancer, who also is a native of Indiana. Rene was “back home again in Indiana,” and, along with her squad and the Madame Ants, made it a true celebration of great dance squads.