NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Follett/Watson) -- The Nashville Predator’s run at the Stanley Cup turned into a sports feeding frenzy here in Middle Tennessee and introduced Smashville hockey to lots of new fans. Overnight everyone in the Mid-State wanted to root the Predators to victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So on the night of the first Stanley Cup home game, a sea of gold and blue jerseys flooded Lower Broadway. Free concerts, combined with a whole lot of booze flowing from the overcrowded honky tonks, made the 50,000 fans especially boisterous.
While the Penguins eventually iced the Predators’ hot run in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals, passionate Preds fans cheered and hollered along the way. One fan in particular, Mark Hollingsworth, has led the cheers and created traditions since the first puck dropped in 1999. Hollingsworth is the proud leader of Section 303, more commonly known as Cellblock 303.
“So when it was announced that the Predators were going to be awarded to Nashville as an expansion franchise, that core of six of us decided hey let’s get seats together and try to start some traditions that no any NHL team has had before,” Hollingsworth explained.
Nat Harden, Nashville Predators Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales and Youth Hockey, stressed how important Hollingsworth and Cellblock 303 have been to the organization since the beginning.
“As you see throughout the playoffs today, when they talk about how special Smashville is and the environment here, it originated back in the early years from section 303,” Harden noted.
New Preds fans may not know the origin of 303’s chants, but long-time supporters will recognize the section’s crazed customs. Before game three, Hollingsworth just couldn’t wait to taunt Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray.
“You count off the number of goals,” Hollingsworth began as he acted out the chant. “Let’s say we scored three goals. You count them off, ‘That’s one, that’s two, that’s three, Thank you Murray. May we have another? He shoots, he scores. You suck, Murray, Murray, Murray. You suck. It’s all your fault. It’s all your fault. It’s all your fault.’”
According to Preds fan Brian Binkley, Cellblock 303 leads the chants for all the fans in attendance. “It’s definitely made the chants a lot more fun to do just because we know we’ve got 17,000 people behind us to do the same thing,” Binkley stated.
Binkley first noticed Section 303 when attending Preds games as a teenager in the 100 and 200 levels. “I was indoctrinated early on, it just took me a few years to make my way over there,” he said.
Binkley’s eyes and ears would drift from the action on the ice to the party atmosphere in the upper level. “And you could hear it. Right above our heads you could hear them doing these chants,” he remembered. “You know I’m 16 years at the time and I’m like yeah, yeah I like it.”
Harden said those cheers from Cellblock 303 increased fan engagement. “I think Mark Hollingsworth was one of the guys there that kind of spearheaded the chants,” he said. “He would hold up signs, you know to help as kind of the tutorial on when to say the chants.”
Harden continued to note how those cheers in the upper level eventually were heard everywhere. “And it just kind of manifested throughout the arena from 303 to 304. 224 down to the lower bowl. And today, the whole arena’s doing many of those chants,” he said.
But for Cellblock 303, the game experience goes deeper than chants. It’s also about building relationships.
“Well it’s like a family,” Hollingsworth stressed. “When you’re going to come 40 nights a year, you might as well get to know people and have fun together.”
Section 303 has experienced life’s ups and downs. According to Hollingsworth, they’ve “had children born into it that now have grown up their entire whole lives in 303.”
From the joy of watching children grow, to coping with the pain of friends passing away. “I’ve lost one of my best friends that used to sit right next to me,” Binkley reminisced. “If he were here today he’d be right in the middle of it, screaming at them just like the rest of us. But I think that does talk to how we are a family.”
Section 303’s family is always looking to adopt newcomers, and Hollingsworth is fired up to support the Preds with as many new fans as possible. “We’ve been called the ignition that starts the arena. We get a lot of the chants going,” he said. “We kind of set the pace and the tone in the arena. So we always need new fresh voices ready to yell, and ready to laugh and ready to create some new traditions.”
So warm up your vocal chords, stock up on your Preds fangs fingers, and prepare for the Section 303 experience. Hockey season is just around the corner--when the Preds will start skating their way to another Stanley Cup finals.
(Special thanks to Matthew Henriques’ YouTube channel for the Murray chant)
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