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Gund Shy

The Rockers foster a new breed of Cleveland sports fan.

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To the Cleveland sports fan, an afternoon in the Dawg Pound, gnawing Milk Bones and guzzling beer through a terrier mask, handily settles under the umbrella of wholesome entertainment. But for those stalwart families still convinced that professional sports should be a bastion of family values, there are the Cleveland Rockers.

"At the last Indians game we went to, we ended up leaving before the game was over," says Karen Izquierdo, mother and Rockers fan for four years. "The whole row of guys behind us got so inebriated and obnoxious, we couldn't stand it anymore."

The same isn't often said of Rockers games, where the vibe is equal parts pro sporting event and afternoon at the mall. Parents kick back and enjoy the game, letting Gund Arena be the baby-sitter for the night, as youngsters run amok through the concourses and teenagers wander in wolflike packs. For WNBA fence-straddlers, promotions like Teen Dance Night and Kiss a Pig Night seal the deal. And in the middle, there's a basketball game being played -- and almost always won -- by the Rockers, who are unbeaten at home through the season's midpoint.

"It's friendly, not hostile," says Patricia Ackerman, a retired teacher and charter member of the Rhythm Section, the official fan club of the Rockers. "It's not the kind of thing where you're going to have a lot of overt behavior."

Friendliness aside, the Rockers have the misfortune of playing an indoor sport during the only three months in Cleveland when you're guaranteed not to get hit with a snowball. The Rockers' average attendance of near-8,000 a game is right in line with the league average, but falls far short of other professional teams in the area.

"We don't play in 40,000-seat arenas," concedes Jennifer Rizzotti, in her first season with the Rockers. "Everybody's got to start somewhere. Eight or nine thousand is great for us right now."

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