By ANGIE CARNATHAN
Mississippi State University is hosting its inaugural Maroon Madness event tonight to celebrate the beginning of basketball season. The evening of fun kicks off at 6 p.m. on Main Street with the Third Annual Pumpkinpalooza, sponsored by Starkville Main Street Association. Pumpkinpalooza activities will take place on Main St. between Washington St. and Jackson St.
Bully, MSU Cheerleaders and Athletic Director Scott Stricklin will be on hand to host a pep rally directly in front of the Pumpkin Patch. The Pumpkin Patch will be located in the middle of Main Street with locally grown pumpkins and gourds from Lancaster Farms in Starkville. Pumpkins will be for sale as well as locally grown mums, Jennifer Gregory, Greater Starkville Development Partnership vice president for tourism, said.
“We encourage parents to dress their kids up in costume and get pictures in the Pumpkin Patch,” Gregory said. “They can also go trick-or-treating at Main Street merchants.”
Gregory said last year’s event attracted over 5,000 people to downtown.
“We’re expecting an even bigger crowd this year,” she said.
Other activities at Pumpkinpalooza include Starkville Community Market vendors, a pumpkin painting station by the Starkville Area Arts Council, face painting by Dandy Doodlez, inflatable jumpers, Halloween-themed music by Thurlow’s Party-to-Go, late-night shopping, dining and the MSU Fashion Board acting as live mannequins in Main Street boutique windows. All activities are free with the exception of purchases from market vendors.
Assistant Athletic Director of Marketing Chad Thomas said the decision to partner Maroon Madness with Pumpkinpalooza was an easy one.
“The city of Starkville does such a great job hosting events in downtown before MSU football games, and we wanted to support that while also promoting the events happening on campus later that evening,” Thomas said. “We encourage everyone to head out to Pumpkinpalooza for the pep rally and then to be at the MSU soccer or volleyball game on campus at 7 p.m.”
Pumpkinpalooza lasts from 6-8 p.m. Maroon Madness moves to campus after the Main Street Pep Rally when the MSU soccer team hosts South Carolina while the volleyball squad takes on Kentucky at Humphrey Coliseum, both at 7 p.m. The doors to the Hump will open at 6 p.m. and seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis.
MSU Volleyball Coach Jenny Hazelwood said the fans have been amazing so far this year, and officials hope to break an SEC attendance record at the Hump. The current record stands at 8,163 for a Florida vs. Georgia match at the Stephen O’Connell center in Gainesville, Fla., on Oct. 14, 1994.
“It give us a huge home court advantage to have the Hump full of cheering fans,” Hazelwood said. “We had over 3,000 fans at our opening match, and it just gives us such momentum to hear the crowd cheering each time we score a point and feel that support from the student body and Bulldog fans.”
Hazelwood said breaking the SEC attendance record would not only be huge for the current players, but will have untold advantages for the program as a whole.
“As we’re working hard at MSU to build a strong volleyball program, breaking a record like that would be an amazing endorsement of the support this school and fan base has given our team,” Hazelwood said. “That’s why breaking this record is not only important to our current players, but also to potential players and their families all over the country who could be looking at our program and deciding where they want to play.”
According to an MSU release, a school and state collegiate record attendance is anticipated for Friday’s match. MSU set those marks Aug. 26 in the Newell-Grissom Building when 3,024 attended the Bulldogs’ season-opening match against Southern Illinois.
Guest coaching for the match is MSU professor Whit Waide. He said the opportunity has fulfilled a life-long dream of his –– getting to wear a coach’s whistle. Waide also said he hopes this game will expose more fans to the sport and, in turn, they’ll continue to support the team in future matches.
“I am so happy to be named guest volleyball coach,” Waide said. “I’d like to see more volleyball programs in Mississippi high schools. Jenny Hazelwood and the volleyball team are such a great part of Mississippi State. I’m just thrilled that they think I’m cool enough to be on the court with them.”
At the conclusion of the volleyball match, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will take the floor to give MSU basketball fans a preview of what’s to come this season. There will be prize giveaways, a 3-point shooting contest, scrimmages and more.
Students will have the opportunity to put their names in the hat at both the soccer and volleyball games to be eligible for a drawing to win an iPad 2, court side seats to a non-conference game and a semester of books valued at $500.
All Maroon Madness events are free to the public. For more information, visit http://www.starkville.org/event/new-south-weekends-pumpkinpalooza/  or http://www.mstateathletics.com .