There is something about St. Bonaventure University that sets it apart from other institutions.
It is difficult to put into words what that is, but the 2021 Charleston Classic can give an outsider an inside look into what St. Bonaventure is all about.
The Charleston Classic is a prominent early-season college basketball tournament held at TD Arena, which is located on the campus of the College of Charleston in South Carolina’s largest city.
Eight teams are invited to this annual November tournament and each team plays three games. Every game is televised on ESPN too.
For the first time, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies men’s basketball team was invited to participate in the 2021 Charleston Classic.
Coming into the 2021-22 season, the Bonnies had high hopes and faced even higher expectations. They returned all five starters from the year before and found themselves ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 1971.
As such, roughly 2,500 excited fans traveled to Charleston to cheer on a great team and celebrate a better university.
“The Bonaventure takeover of the town was unbelievable,” said Dick Kearns, who is a 1972 graduate of St. Bonaventure. “To me, that whole experience down there was so terrific.”
Fans that went had the opportunity to attend three college basketball games and other events.
The St. Bonaventure Alumni Relations office organized pre-game festivities, scheduled a mass, and even planned a dinner cruise on Charleston Harbor.
Each pre-game event was held at the Bay Street Biergarten, which is only a 10-minute walk away from TD Arena.
On Thursday, Nov. 18, the Bonnies played the Boise State Broncos of the Mountain West Conference. Game time was slated for 2:30 p.m. with the pregame beginning at 10 a.m.
“Walking into the [Bay Street Biergarten] on that first day and seeing close to five hundred to six hundred Bonnies fans there getting after it before the game was pretty special,” said Ted Hanna, who graduated from St. Bonaventure in 2020. “It made the trip feel real. It was crazy to see everyone down there and to see how well the Bonaventure community traveled.”
Following a fun pre-game at the Biergarten, the Bonnies defeated Boise State in the opening game by a score of 67-to-61.
It felt like the Reilly Center, with 95% of the crowd cheering on the Brown and White.
It was a terrific first day for the Bonnies. But the next day was even better as the Bonnies took on the Clemson Tigers of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
Clemson is one of the largest schools in the country with a big-time college football program. The school is located in Clemson, South Carolina, which is just four hours from Charleston. Meanwhile, St. Bonaventure is a 17-hour drive and over 1,000 miles away.
“We are very far away from Charleston in terms of where our campus is located,” said Scott Eddy, who is the Sports Information Director for the men’s basketball team. “When the Clemson players came out on the court for pregame warmups, and they’re getting booed off the court, the reaction from some of the Clemson players was [hilarious to watch.] I am sure they had no idea where Bonaventure is. And I bet they thought they would have a decent number of fans here. But then they looked around and realized that this is a true road game.”
St. Bonaventure’s undergraduate enrollment is a shade under 2,000. The Brown and White faithful easily outnumbered those of an in-state team, which is pretty impressive.
But the Bonnie fans were not impressed with their team at halftime of this game. At the intermission, the Bonnies trailed the Tigers 36-to-26.
Clemson dominated the opening 20 minutes.
But the Bonnies clawed back into it, and eventually won 68-to-65.
Hey Al & Chris, you might need to come to Charleston.
Sunday night football is cancelled.
— Jack Milko (@jack_milko) November 19, 2021
After the win, Bonnie fans were in a state of euphoria. They could not believe that their team roared back to beat Clemson.
To celebrate, hundreds of Bona fans waited for the players outside the arena.
“When the kids were heading to the bus, and everyone surrounded the bus to cheer them on, that was something that made this university shine,” said Joe Manhertz, who was hired as the new Athletic Director at St. Bonaventure in the fall of 2021. “The pride that we had in Charleston made me think that I made the right choice in coming here and being a part of this. You can’t bottle that passion and sell it, because if you could, we would make a lot of money.”
It was one of the defining moments of the weekend.
Jack Milko takes you through the highlights of each game in Charleston.
Friday was an incredible day for the Brown and White faithful. But the best was yet to come.
Two days after the Clemson game, St. Bonaventure would face the Marquette Golden Eagles in the championship game of the Charleston Classic.
But before tip-off at 7:30 p.m., and before yet another pre-game at the Biergarten, the St. Bonaventure community celebrated mass.
“From my point of view, there is nothing more important than the celebration of the Eucharist,” said Father Ross Chamberland, who presided over Sunday’s mass in the Biergarten parking lot. “The crowd of over 400 people standing at mass–and they were so committed–that is the first thing I think of when I reflect upon that weekend.”
“It’s always enjoyable to play a Jesuit team [like Marquette],” Fr. Chamberland added. “At the end of the mass, right before the final blessing, I told the crowd that ‘we are going up against a Jesuit school today. St. Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order, had a personal, deep devotion toward St. Francis of Assisi. St. Ignatius Loyola built a lot of his spiritual exercises through the lens of his understanding of that devotion. So there would be no Jesuits if not for us Franciscans.’”
The Bonaventure crowd erupted in laughs and smiles after Fr. Chamberland made this point.
Later that evening, the Bonnies throttled Marquette in the final game, thus winning the 2021 Charleston Classic.
“The execution of the whole weekend was amazing,” Kearns recalled. “And to go home afterward, we all thought to ourselves, ‘damn right we are number 16! And we should be higher!’”
The Bonnies were ranked 16th in the Associated Press Top 25 following the Charleston Classic. The team and the Bona fans were the media darlings of the college basketball landscape.
“I hope Joe Manhertz is taking some of this to follow up with the powers that be,” Kearns noted. “When I think of this weekend, and reflect upon it, I think about how it was a great promo for the Bonnies to demonstrate to other tournament committees what you get when you invite us to your tournament. You get great basketball, and loyal and excited fans to fill the arena. And as we saw at Madison Square Garden for the NIT, we have an economic impact from our participation. This is the fan base that arrives early, stays late, and spends some money. But if I am one of these holiday tournament committees, this is the kind of team we want! The Bonnies are going to make an impact on the event just by being there.”
Jack Milko received his B.A. in Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is now working to get his M.A. in Sports Journalism from St. Bonaventure University and also covers the Bonnies for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter for more Bonnies coverage at @Jack_Milko.