Deacon Profile: Kenneth Herbst

Kenneth Herbst (’97) is an associate professor of Marketing in the Schools of Business at Wake Forest University. Herbst has a Masters and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also is an alumnus, receiving his B.A. in 1997. While at Wake Forest, he played basketball as a walk-on on back-to-back ACC Championship teams in 1995 and 1996. On March 14, during the 2013 ACC Tournament, Herbst became a worldwide trend on Twitter under the hashtag #IntenseWakeFan. Everyone watching the Wake-Maryland game noticed the energetic and passionate person standing just feet from Jeff Bzdelik and the rest of the team. 

Photo courtesy of Robert Willett/News and Observer

Photo courtesy of Robert Willett/News and Observer

 

What were you feeling, watching the Deacs play? What was it like inside the coliseum right behind the team?

As I always do when I watch the Deacs play, I felt a great level of pride cheering on the Deacs March 14, the opening night of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. Being present to support the Deacs in a seat from which I can be heard and hopefully “felt” is very special to me, and it reminds me of my role on the team (supporting and motivating the team on the court in practice and applauding the team from the bench on game days) almost 20 years ago. I believe that positive vocal support could go a long way to helping our team become more successful, and it could create a real home court advantage. It makes me feel great to be courtside as I try to make any difference that I can to help the team succeed and to let them know that their hard work and effort are very appreciated. We improved significantly this year, and I am excited about our team’s future.

 

Those who were watching the game christened you #IntenseWakeFan on Twitter. How does it feel knowing that the tag was trending worldwide during and after the game?

The reaction on Twitter and from fans around the country on March 14 was fun.  I have been cheering for the Deacs with incredible passion for 30+ years. When I played at Wake, one of my biggest contributions was motivating the team and cheering for them as we battled the greatest teams in the country night after night. I was born in Winston-Salem, and my parents and I have been going to Wake games since I was five years old. Cheering with enthusiasm is not a new thing for me, and so the reaction from fans and the media around the country that night was really surprising but fun. I think the reason that this became somewhat of a story was because I was in a seat in which I could be seen and from which I could be heard. I hope that my applauding the team for their great effort makes a difference.

 

Many professors aren’t too passionate about Wake Forest athletics. What sets you apart? Do you feel it’s important to support the team? Why?

I am not sure that most professors feel a lack of passion for Wake athletics. I suppose that this may be true, but several of my colleagues are very interested in the team, and they follow our guys very closely. What may set me apart from a typical Wake professor is that I have a very personal tie to the men’s basketball program given that I was a walk-on on the basketball team in the mid-1990s. So, my Wake pride has really deep roots.

Yes, it is very important to support the team. My view is that if the players and coaches have “Wake Forest” written across their chest, then I will support them — win or lose.

Our support can only help. I have encouraged my students to attend the games and to cheer loudly early and often.  I believe that we will get back to where we all want to be more quickly if we all pull together as students, faculty and fans to support our team and to create an atmosphere in the Joel Coliseum that makes defeating us in the Joel incredibly difficult.

 

Are you planning on watching the NCAA tournament, even though the Deacs will not be appearing?

I enjoy college basketball, and so I watched several conference tournaments. I really enjoy March Madness. The two opening days of the NCAA Tournament are my favorite sports days of the year.

Watching March Madness without the Deacs is, unquestionably, less exciting. Still, I will be watching the NCAA Tournament as I anticipate this year’s “Cinderella” story and unforgettable game endings.

I’ve heard that you were a walk-on when you came to the university. What was it like, playing for Wake Forest on the court?

The walk-on experience at Wake was very exciting, and given my childhood fondness for Wake Forest and my love for all of my childhood “heroes in Wake jerseys,” it was  wonderful in many ways.

I still remember the first time that I ran out of the tunnel and onto the floor at the Joel Coliseum as the band played our fight song. I literally had goose bumps. I will never forget that. It was an exhibition game, but we could have been playing Duke or North Carolina as far as I was concerned — what a thrill!

I did not play often in the games, but I did not expect to play. I was a solid high school player, but I knew that playing in games in the ACC was quite a reach. Randolph Childress and Tim Duncan were fun to guard in practice, and as a walk-on, you simply needed to know your role. My role was to help the team prepare for games as a scout player for the opposing team. It was such an honor to wear the black and gold and to be a part of three teams — two of which won ACC Championships in 1995 and in 1996.

 

Why did you choose to come back to the university as a professor?

The reason that I went into academia was, in part, because of Mark Leary, a psychology professor who was here at Wake.

He taught Research Methods, and he was such a dynamic speaker and professor. He was my role model in academia, and I think that the way that I teach is a combination of Mark and several of the coaches and mentors that I have had at Wake Forest, in graduate school and at other universities.

I am happiest when I am teaching, and I hope to make a difference in the lives of current students at my alma mater in a way that my professors had a lasting effect on my career.

In addition, although I did not have the opportunity to play for Coach Skip Prosser, he still managed to have a profound impact on my life.  I found Coach Prosser’s love of teaching and scholarship to be very refreshing. He always invited me to practices when I was back in town visiting family.

I saw Coach Prosser and his wife six days before he passed away.

I was leaving a concert in Greensboro. Fifteen to 20 feet from the exit, I heard my name yelled loudly and clearly. “Kenny!” I looked down the concourse and it was Coach Prosser. “Just wanted to say — welcome home. You are going to do great things at Wake Forest.” That was our final communication.