Crookston girls' basketball team spices up the stands with cardboard fan cutouts

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times
Crookston girls' basketball players Halle Winjum (left), Macy Fee (middle) and Hayden Winjum (right) pose with their Pirate Fans in the Stands cutouts after practice Tuesday, Feb. 2.

Leah Winjum had been looking for a way to restore some of the normal atmosphere at Crookston High School basketball games.

Due to COVID-19, CHS has implemented strict fan policies this winter. A maximum of 150 spectators, and a limited amount of guests per player, are allowed in attendance.

So when Winjum, the mother of Pirate girls' basketball players Hayden and Halle Winjum, came across a Facebook video of a high school team that dotted its empty stands with mannequins, she got some inspiration.

After the Crookston girls' basketball team finished practice on Tuesday, Feb. 2, they got together to decorate cardboard cutouts to fill the stands, taping faces to the cutouts and dressing them up with shirts, costumes or other accessories. 

Each player chose who they wanted their cutout to represent. A few players chose famous actors, athletes, musicians and other celebrities just to, in the words of Halle Winjum, "spice it up a bit."

"We all just thought it was creative and we had fun with it," said Winjum, who dressed up her cutout as Spider-Man. "... We miss our student section, having actual loud fans, but it's nice to have something there to fill it in."

Along with Spider-Man, rapper/singer Post Malone — or at least the two-dimensional version of him — joined the crowd, wearing a referee's shirt. Minnesota Vikings star Adam Thielen was in the stands too.

But some players went closer to home with their cutouts, choosing friends, family members and other people close to them who are unable to attend games. Others went with past and present teachers and coaches at CHS. Hayden Winjum went with longtime Crookston tennis coach and teacher Mike Geffre, who retired in 2019.

"We definitely missed the real people out in the stands," she said. "This is a happy medium."

Some of the "fans" in attendance at the Crookston boys' basketball team's Feb. 2 game against Park Rapids included Spider-Man, Post Malone, Adam Thielen and longtime Crookston tennis coach Mike Geffre.

For the Pirates, decorating the cutouts also served as a team bonding activity in a season that, due to the pandemic, has been largely bereft of them.

But the entire process, from start to finish, was a community production. Lean Packaging, a local company run by John Bridgeford, donated the cardboard. The industrial arts program at Crookston High School, run by teacher Travis Oliver, dedicated time to cut out and design the cardboard silhouettes. It was up to the Pirates themselves to add the finishing creative touches.

All of these efforts coalesced last Tuesday night, as the cardboard fans lined the bleachers for that night's boys' basketball game against Park Rapids. Hayden and Halle Winjum were both there to cheer on their male counterparts and take in the fruits of their labor.

"If you spaced them out, they're really big cardboard people," Halle Winjum said. "They looked cool out there in the stands, and I think the boys enjoyed seeing them while they were playing."

Added Hayden: "Hopefully they maybe scared off the other team."

Crookston's next two games are on the road: the Pirates play at Fergus Falls Friday night and travel to Stephen-Argyle Tuesday, Feb. 16. Next Saturday, against Barnesville, they'll finally get to play in front of the fans they helped create.

"I think we'll have fun with it," Halle Winjum said. "It will be cool to see our creations out in the stands and know that we made them all together."

Winjum said she might throw up a Spider-Man hand sign to celebrate a big play or two. Not only would she be paying tribute to the comic book hero, but to the community of Crookston itself, as with its help, an idea to restore the pre-pandemic atmosphere grew into an atmosphere all its own.

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The effort to fill the bleachers with cardboard fans was aided by Crookston's Lean Packaging and CHS' industrial arts program.