The Murray State men’s basketball team begins OVC tournament play tonight against Eastern Kentucky University in Nashville. This will be the first tournament the Racers play without the support of their biggest fan, who’s leaving behind quite the legacy.
It’s the last home game of the season. The Suiter family sits right behind the Racers’ bench where all the seats are full, except for one. A navy cover sits on the empty front corner seat where Gearl Suiter sat, with Boss embroidered in gold. Gearl’s family surrounds the seat that bears his nickname, shouting instructions to the players by name and jumping out of their seats each time a ball sinks in the right basket.
Gearl’s son Larry Suiter’s voice stands out from the crowd as he makes comments to the refs and advises individual players as they play. Anyone in the Suiter family or anyone who sits nearby them will tell you when it comes to what Gearl was like in his heyday at Racer games, Larry is his spitting image.
Larry and his older brother Lindy Suiter both remember coming to games as long as they can remember. But Lindy said the games aren’t as hard as he expected they would be without his dad.
“The games you get caught up in the action,” Lindy said. “When you’re intense Racer fans like myself, my brother and the rest of the family you have a tendency to get focused on the game. But the difficult thing I think is sharing the victories.”
Gearl died at the age of 76 on June 8th, 2013. Since it was summer, most of the players were at their homes far from Murray. Junior Guard TJ Sapp from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, recalls hearing the news of Gearl’s death.
“It was, you know, a real devastating thing when he passed,” Sapp said. “I wish I was here at the time because I wanted to attend the funeral and I even heard how they did the whole funeral, driving around. They even stopped here and they played the last Racer fight song for him. It just shows how long they’ve been a part of this whole Murray State Racer program.”
Many of the players like Sapp know the Suiters well, but weren’t as close with Gearl. Lindy said his dad’s health kept him from traveling to games and coming out as often as he wished the past few years, including the big 2011-2012 season.
“Those last three years were very tough on him,” Lindy said. “I remember him looking at me one day and it really just hit me hard. He says, ‘Isn’t it awful that I can’t enjoy this incredible season because I just don’t feel good.’
“It was really bad because all these years and we finally make it to where he really always wanted us to see. He didn’t get to go to San Jose to the NCAA tournament where we beat Vanderbilt. He wasn’t able to make it to Louisville. He just couldn’t travel.”
For the Suiters those men on the Racer team are family, brothers even. Those strong bonds are why the Suiter men get so worked up at games. It’s why Larry’s wife Susan keeps a list on her fridge of all the players’ birthdays and favorite cakes. It’s why Coach Steve Prohm sits in an office bearing Gearl’s name.
“That whole family is embedded in this program,” Prohm said. “We’re sitting in the practice facility right now. They’ve been a big part of the building of this. And they’re just big supporters of not just the program but our guys. When you’re away from home, for those guys that’s a big deal.”
Lindy said for the Suiters, there’s only one basketball team, and it runs in their blood.
“A lot of kids grow up that way about the University of Kentucky,” he said. “Well, in our household it was all Murray State. You weren’t even allowed to mention that name in our household.”
But the Suiters aren’t the only ones whose doors are always open for the players. Larry said his father would want to share credit for supporting the men’s Racer team.
“He would say this that there’s lots of families like ours around,” Lindy said. “That’s what’s neat about Murray. There’s lots of families that have generation after generation of Racer fans.”
And all those fans and supporters like the Suiters that have shaped the Racer team into what it is can be found in one place during the season: game day at the CFSB Center.