A sea of yellow mixed with the right amount of youthful (and maybe drunken) energy welcomes opposing teams each year to UCSB sporting events. Armed with the yellow and blue of their beloved Gauchos, the Gaucho Locos are an intimidating squad.

Starting this year, the group is now officially run by the students, after the University ran the group for the its first five years. Budget cuts and the loss of assistant marketing director Chris Austin led UCSB to give control of the group to the students. The Gaucho Locos are headed by junior political science major Adam Pinson and senior Scott McDowell.

“We have a lot more freedom now that there is no oversight by the administration,” McDowell said.

The Gaucho Locos hope to generate the same amount of interest in the group this year as in previous ones. The group generates upwards of 1500 members each year and continues to

“Obviously an increase in participation would make us ecstatic,” McDowell said.

Gauchos sports teams have been almost unbeatable at home over the last few years. The five UCSB Big West championship teams from a year ago (men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s tennis) combined for only four losses all year, with both men’s soccer and women’s basketball finishing the year undefeated. Much of Santa Barbara’s success at home in recent years can be attributed to the popularity of the group.

“Statistically wise, most of our teams are undefeated at home,” Pinson said. “We are one of the best groups on campus.”

Founded in 1998 as the Gauchoholics (a fitting name considering the state of most fans while at the game), the group was designed to bring school spirit back to UCSB basketball games that had been lost during the team’s winning drought in the mid ’90s. Since 1998, the group has grown considerably and represents the soul of the Gauchos fan base.

The group was forced to change their name a year later, after school administration worried that the name “Gauchoholics” was in reference to activities other than support for Santa Barbara athletics. The name was then changed to the Gaucho Locos, and the group has tormented visiting teams ever since. However, now that the group is in the hands of the students, there has been some discussion that the name will be changed back to the “Gauchoholics.” However, such a change would not occur until 2004-2005.

The Gaucho Locos are a big reason ESPN returned to Santa Barbara after a four-year absence. The sports broadcasting giant frequently came to UCSB during the ’80s and early ’90s when Gaucho fans were considered some of the rowdiest in the nation. After UCSB fell on hard times athletically, ESPN slowly made their exit from Santa Barbara. But with the emergence of the Gaucho Locos, ESPN returned to the Thunderdome in 2001 for a men’s basketball game between UCSB and Long Beach State. The raucous crowd reaction was so big that ESPN returned later that year for a game against Pacific, then again for Bracket Buster Saturday against the University of Detroit.

“The Gaucho Locos have a huge effect on the game,” senior political science major Carl Blincoe said, a three-year member of the Gaucho Locos. “USC won’t come here anymore because the fans are too rowdy.”

Despite the excitement the Gaucho Locos bring to the games, active membership isn’t as high.

“We need a lot more active members,” Blincoe said. “A lot of people join the group, but not everyone comes out. If everyone who joined came out to the games nobody would ever want to play here.”

Joining the Gaucho Locos this year will be different than in years prior. Since the organization is now run by students, business sponsors are needed to help fund its existence. The fee for joining the group hasn’t been set yet, but according to McDowell, the cost shouldn’t exceed ten dollars. In the past, the Gaucho Locos would set up a basketball hoop in front of the UCen to encourage people to join. But with book buybacks located in that area this year, the groups has been forced to find a new place to hold signups. Members receive weekly emails with updates of Gaucho sports, dates of upcoming Loco events, and other news.

In previous years, members received prizes for attending games including t-shirts, tank tops, coupons for food and movies, bus trips to road games and an end-of-the-year party cruise. Prizes will continue to be a part of the organization, but the list has not been set yet, due to the ongoing search for sponsors. The Gaucho Locos T-shirt, equipped with the famous top-ten list, will return this year. The top ten list has tentatively been made, and shirts should be available by the first home men’s basketball game Dec. 3 against Pepperdine.

For more information on the Gaucho Locos, visit the website at www.gaucholocos.com.