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Tribe 'super fans' raring to fire up team in Baltimore

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    Tribe Pride:  Fans cheer for the men's basketball team during the Gold Rush game in February.  Photo by Jim Agnew
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Fans pour into Kaplan Arena as the teams take the court. Some are parents. Some are local Williamsburg residents. And some – dripping in green and gold attire, holding cardboard cutouts of their favorite players’ faces and yelling louder than the buzzer – are William & Mary student super fans.

At a university known for its rich history and rigorous academics, these students demonstrate their school pride through their consistent and enthusiastic efforts at William & Mary sporting events, and men’s basketball games are no exception. As the team prepares for the CAA tournament in Baltimore, Maryland, this weekend, the Tribe’s student super fans are also preparing to use everything in their sixth-man arsenal to propel the team to the title – and W&M’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA basketball tournament.

{{youtube:medium:left|J5zbYelFod8, A look at some of the fan action during a recent Tribe basketball game}}

William & Mary super fans come in many forms: Some pride themselves on consistent attendance at every game. Others wear wacky costumes, including Erin Johnson '19 and Libby Johnson '19 who don full-body green and gold "morphsuits" for the games. Other fans are known for the props they carry, including the giant cardboard faces – or "big heads" – of members of the team, or, in the case of Aidan Hennessey-Niland '19, himself. And other students take pleasure in helping the Tribe cheerleaders and pep band increase crowd engagement.

“The team and the students play off each other’s energy, making the games that much more electrifying and fun to watch,” said Vicky Castro ’18, who has attended every William & Mary men’s basketball game since her freshman year.

Trip Means '17 particularly enjoys the close connection between students and players.

"It’s intense because it’s so personal,” said Means. “The guys on our team are in classes with us, struggling through the same things as everybody else and on top of that, they are representing the school in basketball. I admire that."

Means is part of a larger group of fraternity members who have committed to maintaining a significant portion of the student section of games.

“I got involved through my fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega,” said Means. “We had a group coming to every game before I even came to school here. The reason I was there was because of the guys who came before me and got everybody pumped up to come out. Now that I’ve inherited that legacy, I work very hard to maintain it and add to it."

Another group of students, Andrew Gnapp '16, Richard Uhrig ’16 and Seth Opoku-Yeboah '16, is responsible for reviving Tribal Fever, the university’s student fan-club for athletics.

“We just work to support the athletes, get other students out to games and generally build excitement for Tribe sports," said Uhrig.

Opoku-Yeboah was given the opportunity to lead the club three years ago and has since teamed with friends and fellow students to grow the program.

"I came across Tribal Fever my sophomore year through work I was doing on Student Assembly,” Opoku-Yeboah said. “The then-presidents were graduating, and I was propositioned to take over. It's a tough task, and the first year really drove home that point. I think this year sets up the club well for future success."

{{youtube:medium:left|dpj8nGxjCss, #MarchOnTribe}}

Uhrig valued the opportunity to capitalize on an aspect of the university that deserved more attention.

"I think that sports here have been an under-appreciated part of the school's culture and the William & Mary experience, so when Seth approached me about helping to restart Tribal Fever to help change that, I jumped at the opportunity," said Uhrig.

Gnapp emphasized the growing nature of the club and the bright future that lies ahead for Tribal Fever.

"We just wanted to bring this organization back to prominence and continue to build on the work and momentum Tribal Fever once had," said Gnapp.

As the men’s basketball team continues through the CAA tournament, students like Castro, Means, Uhrig, Gnapp and Opoku-Yeboah will continue to show their presence as super fans and hope that their fellow students will do the same.

“If you like sports but have yet to catch the fever here at the College, I would suggest that you try to get a front-row seat at the next big sporting event you get the chance to go to so that you can really feel the energy and be a big part of the atmosphere. Maybe you'll find that you like it,” said Uhrig.

The Tribe takes on James Madison University Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Royal Farms Arena. Tickets to the CAA tournament are free for students with ID and available at the will-call table at the arena entrance near the corner of West Baltimore Street and Hopkins Place. A pre-game party will be held at Pratt Street Ale House in Baltimore beginning at 12:30 p.m., and watch parties are being hosted in other locations. More information on the tournament may be found on the #MarchOnTribe website.