March Madness Ushers in Mason Madness: What a Week It Was!

Posted: March 24, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Gazette Staff

On Monday morning, people were still in a bit of a state of shock. The Fairfax Campus was fairly quiet except for the news media vans that kept pulling up.

Then the phones in the university’s Media Relations Department began ringing and never stopped all day. President Alan Merten, men’s basketball Head Coach Jim Larranaga and members of the team gave interviews nonstop to newspaper and television reporters.

About mid-morning, e-mails started to overload inboxes. Alumni, parents of Mason students and friends of Mason employees were all checking in. First, there were congratulations, then the question: How do I get tickets?

By Tuesday, normally a busy day on the Fairfax Campus anyway, madness had really set in. The bookstore was deluged with buyers seeking Mason paraphernalia—T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats—were literally flying off the shelves. An order of 500 “Sweet 16” T-shirts came and went.

Fenwick Library decorated
Impromptu decorations sprang up all over campus. Above, a room divider in Fenwick Library made a perfect backdrop for a display of Mason spirit.
Courtesy Fenwick Library

The Michigan State and North Carolina games were re-broadcast continuously during lunchtime in the Johnson Center atrium. Life-size cardboard posters of the players sprang up in the Johnson Center, along with posters promoting the upcoming Wichita State game. The real-life Mason basketball players could be seen trailing camera and sound crews as they collected congratulations from the lunchtime crowd.

The Career Services job fair was going on downstairs, and even the prospective employers were buzzing about the basketball team’s successes. Fred Wiker, associate with A. Morton Thomas and Associates, a consulting engineering firm, said, “I’m a Nascar fan, but I think it’s fantastic” that Mason beat UNC, a “hard team to beat.”

Meanwhile, the procedure for securing the scarce tickets had been established, and members of the “Patriot Platoon,” Mason’s sports booster club, set up “Camp Larranaga” as they waited for a chance to get the first tickets.

Later in the day, other students formed a line outside the Field House for tickets that would go on sale Wednesday morning. Because of the cold weather, students were allowed in the Field House to camp out, and they did—bringing sleeping bags, pillows, coolers, even Xboxes and DVD players. A steady supply of food and snacks from alumni and friends kept them well-provisioned during the night.

Gunston and cheerleaders
The Mason mascot, Gunston, was on hand Wednesday with the cheerleaders and students to wish the team well as they boarded a bus headed to the Verizon Center.
Creative Services photo

On Wednesday, another order of 500 T-shirts came in and sold out by noon. By this time, the madness had spread beyond the borders of the Mason campuses. The City of Fairfax rushed to post a congratulatory banner at the intersection of Routes 50 and 123.

People all over the country were talking about the “Cinderella Team.” Not just sports shows, but news outlets like the “Jim Lehrer NewsHour” and NPR were talking about the Mason phenomena. At a send-off rally for the team at the Patriot Center loading dock, there were almost more news crews than students.

Other highlights of the week:

  • The Office of Alumni Affairs urged alumni to organize watch parties in their communities. As of Thursday, there were 30 planned in the Washington, D.C, metropolitan area, as well as sites in Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, with more being added by the hour.

  • As a result of the intense spotlight, some people learned for the first time that Mason is the largest university in Virginia (nearly 30,000 students), that it’s only 30 minutes from the nation’s capital and that it has two Nobel laureates.
  • The bronze statue of George Mason at the center of the Fairfax Campus was dressed and undressed so many times it was hard to keep track. At various times during the week, he held banners, balloons and pom-poms, wore a basketball jersey, had a fluffy green hat perched on his head and trailed a cape of “Sweet Sixteen!” posters taped together. He had his picture snapped more times than during Commencement week.
  • Sports Illustrated was due to hit the newsstands Friday with a picture of men’s basketball player Lamar Butler on the cover.
  • Student Media videotaped international students congratulating and cheering on the team in their native languages. The cheers were shown on a monitor in the Johnson Center on Thursday and will be included as part of a future web site and magazine highlighting Mason’s diversity.
  • The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors announced it was proclaiming George Mason University Day in Fairfax County on Friday, March 24. President Alan Merten planned to accept the proclamation at the Fairfax County Government Center.

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