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Saturday, June 22
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

The story behind Martha the Mop Lady

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There are few times inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall where you can hear a pin drop — except for when Martha the Mop Lady makes her appearance on the video board 10 minutes before the start of every Indiana basketball game.

Martha begins the 75-second clip by humming the first few notes to Indiana’s fight song, “Indiana, Our Indiana,” which acts as the dinner bell for the crowd, as the college basketball cathedral then rarely turns motionless — excluding Indiana's free-throws.

Pregame conversations pause. Fans whip out their phones and capture the tradition while also attempting to live in the moment, careful not to watch through only their camera lens and get drawn out from perhaps one of the college sports’ greatest sold-out spectacles.

Everyone quietly sings the first line with Martha as they prepare to clap along for the rest. Though inevitable, fans are okay with the off-beat clapping. By this point anyway, all are thrilled to see her and await the players' arrival on the court dressed in candy striped pants.

That event prepares everyone for the beginning of the basketball game, but Martha’s first appearances began on television screens at home, not the big board inside Assembly Hall.

In 1971, Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance became the sole sponsor of Indiana and Purdue University basketball games on television station WTTV-4. By the mid-decade, television ads were shown prior to the start of Indiana basketball games on that channel. They featured Martha Webster, an opera singer dressed as a cleaning lady, singing the fight song while sweeping the Hall.

The 1970s saw Indiana boast some of the best teams in the history of the sport with renowned head coach Bob Knight beginning his three-title reign with the Hoosiers. With his following increasing and fans packing the stands, CBS started airing Indiana games.

Once Indiana’s games started being nationally televised, the campaign was no longer seen on television screens at home, which meant for over two decades, there was no sight of Martha. However, in 2010, Indiana Athletics announced that the iconic video would reappear, this time on the video board at Assembly Hall after the national anthem and before tip-off.

“We were all just as thrilled to hear the vintage Martha spot was returning and appreciate Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance for recognizing what a special, unique affiliation she had to our Hoosier fans all those years,” then-Indiana Director of IU Athletics Fred Glass said in November 2010. “Martha’s obvious passion for IU Basketball was infectious and led to a following that was like none other”

These days, the video of Martha is played before the players run out of the locker room and onto the court, prior to the announcement of the starting lineups and the playing of the national anthem.

This past January, before Indiana’s 86-70 win over Ohio State University, there was a special live performance by Jacobs School of Music opera singer Maggie Kinabrew in place of the video. Kinabrew dressed as Martha and gave her own rendition of the fight song to the delight of the crowd ahead of the beatdown of the Buckeyes.

Since Martha arrived on the big screen at Assembly Hall, there has been a Twitter account (@TheMopLady) created in her memory. The account is run by Josh Bruick, an Indiana alumnus who wanted to carry on Martha’s legacy and was enamored with Martha’s personality.

“I mean, obviously, (Martha) is a historical figure,” Bruick said. “I remember watching her when I was little when we only had four channels and she did the intro.”

Bruick started the account in September 2011 when he was in his 20s as a way to anonymously interact with other IU fans. At that time, the only other account like that was Chronic Hoosier — an Indiana superfan whose identity remains anonymous despite massive popularity.

As the seasons and years progressed and Bruick matured, he came to the realization that his purpose of creating the account was not to just use Martha’s profile to attract a massive following. He wanted to start using as it a way to give back.

2019 was head coach Archie Miller’s second year with the Hoosiers, the season where Indiana just missed out on an NCAA Tournament berth. Still, the Hoosiers earned a No. 1-seed in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), meaning they would host games inside Assembly Hall. General admission tickets for those games were being sold for just $15.

Looking back, Bruick said the following he had and the $15 tickets coincided quite well and presented an opportunity for him to take advantage of something that just so happened to work itself out.

“This is really kind of where the light bulb clicked for me,” Bruick said. “For me it was like man, this is really a way for me to give back. I can use the account, engage with IU fans and find some deserving families to go to a game.”

Every year, Bruick, a Fort Wayne native, would take his mom down to Bloomington for an IU basketball game. As a non-season-ticket holder, Bruick would have to pay extra to purchase tickets knowing the game was most likely sold out, drive down, eat dinner and sometimes stay overnight.

“It can end up being a $500-600 day before it’s all said and done,” Bruick said.

With that in mind, Bruick tweeted from the Martha account, which at that time had about 20,000 followers (it currently has over 35,000 followers, for reference) trying to bring people to The Hall for the first time to watch the Hoosiers host an NIT first-round game.

Bruick figured anyone could fire off a tweet trying to help families bring their kids to an IU game for the first time but after matching tickets and gaining traction, Bruick realized he had something brewing. He continued it for the remainder of IU’s 2019 NIT run and into the next basketball season, which eventually turned into adding football and softball.

As Indiana was nearing an NCAA Tournament berth in 2020 for the first time since 2016, COVID-19 occurred. There were no games to be attended, no tickets to be handed out and no ways Bruick could give back to the IU community during the pandemic.

“That's really where I kind of reset and I was like what can what can I turn this into,” Bruick said. “That's where the nonprofit idea started with the Hoosier Ticket Project.”

Bruick created the Hoosier Ticket Project in 2021 as a non-profit organization aimed to provide fans — particularly children — the opportunity to see an IU athletic event in person while not having to spend a penny for admission.

The Twitter account (@HoosierProject) was created in August 2021, nearly a decade after Martha’s was created. That account, which has over 2,000 followers in less than two years of existence, publicly celebrates all the families that have been sent to IU athletics events.

“I'm just a guy that's hijacking your identity and I think most people know that by now,” Bruick said. “Obviously, it's just a parody account. There'll be times I get mad after losses, but at the core of what the account does with the ticket project, I'd like to think I do a pretty decent job by her name,” Bruick said.

The reuniting of Martha the Mop Lady with Indiana basketball over a decade ago has connected the past to the present, and now Bruick is trying to take that to the next level to allow Indiana fans to see Martha on the big screen. Not only has Martha’s fandom grown on Twitter, it has grown from TV screens in the 70s to the big screen inside Assembly Hall.

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