By Wayne Epps, Jr. | Photos by Sean Paige
James Hemphill “The Jet-Setter”
Sometimes being a fan means going out on a limb. Senior sport and recreation management major James Hemphill gets his sports fix not just at football and basketball games, but other sports like women’s lacrosse and men’s soccer as well.
“My favorite sport to watch would probably be women’s lacrosse,” Hemphill said. “My sister played lacrosse in high school and I have I have a bunch of friends on the team. And it’s really fun to watch, it’s very different and they really appreciate me coming to their games because they have just [so] few fans at most games.”
Hemphill’s fandom goes back to his high school days in Loudon County, Va. He was a major supporter of his high school’s teams and continued that passion at JMU.
“When I came to JMU, I just continued that tradition that I set for myself,” Hemphill said. “Just come to as many sporting events as possible.”
From the football and basketball to soccer, lacrosse and more, Hemphill estimates that he goes to 65-to-70 games each school year. This includes not only home games but several away games as well. He’s gone to places like Virginia Tech and Villanova University in Philadelphia to watch football games; Towson University in Maryland to watch women’s lacrosse and most recently, Richmond to watch men’s basketball.
“I try and travel with the team the best I can,” Hemphill said.
When Hemphill goes to games, he doesn’t just show up, he puts effort into it. Hemphill estimates that he’s painted his chest for 20-to-25 games during his time at JMU and he’s also participated in team promotions, like a shooting competition during a women’s basketball game.
Through all of the games that he’s gone too, the one that stands out the most to Hemphill is men’s soccer’s 1-0 upset of the then top-ranked University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on Sept. 11, 2012.
“It was really fun to be at,” Hemphill said. “It was a great atmosphere, we won in dramatic style. It was a great memory and I’ll probably remember it for the rest of my life.”
What drives Hemphill to support teams as religiously as he does is his desire to pay the athletes back for their work.
“I really appreciate athletics and being a student-athlete,” Hemphill said. “It takes a lot of time and commitment to be a student athlete and I like to reward them with my loyalty as a fan.”
Brian Reese “The Purple Guy”
Everyone has a calling, and for sophomore media arts and design major Brian Reese, that calling may involve the passion and spirit he has for JMU.
Reese, an executive member of the Student Duke Club, attends just about every home football and basketball game. The only thing that keeps him out is sickness.
Basketball is Reese’s favorite and JMU’s run in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament allowed him to truly express his fandom at a new level. For the team’s semifinals game against the University of Delaware on Mar. 10, Reese had his chest painted with the words “Electric Zoo”, hearkening back to the nickname of JMU’s basketball student section in the 1980s.
“It was something that I thought, if I painted that on my chest, would get some attention,” Reese said. “Maybe from the cameras, the announcers and see if we could bring that back.”
The Richmond Coliseum’s shirt policy forced Reese to cover up the display, but he still sported lightning bolts on his arms to represent the Electric Zoo.
After JMU beat Delaware, Reese went all out for Monday’s game, sporting everything from purple and gold face paint to a purple and gold lei. The outfit even gained compliments from university president Jonathan Alger on the Commons before the game.
“He was like, ‘Oh man, look at that,’” Reese said. “He was really excited to see everybody really getting ready for the game.”
After his experience with the CAA tournament, Reese is looking forward to continuing the trend of going all out with his costumes for big games and to inspiring his peers to get into the act as well.
“What I really want to work on is just getting other students just as interested as I am,” Reese said.
Another idea that Reese has to increase energy at basketball games involves the pep band, which he calls one of the best in the state of Virginia and a factor in the success of JMU’s basketball programs.
“What I really would like to propose is somehow being able to merge the students with the pep band on one end of the court, or at least be able to combine them,” Reese said. “Because I think with the pep band, with the students, I think it would just be an incredible, incredible atmosphere.”
Reese’s concentration in the SMAD major is corporate communication and he is also a sports communication minor. He is interested in working with sports public relations at a university, taking his fan passion into a career.
“JMU would be the dream job I think right now from the amount of pride I have in our school,” Reese said. “Being able to professionally do that and do my best to build our university’s reputation and increasing the school spirit.”
Alex Burden “The Vocalist”
Since his first home football game in his freshman year, junior kinesiology major Alex Burden has been hooked on JMU athletics.
Burden didn’t start out as a big JMU fan, but that game, a 48-7 win over Morehead State University on Sep. 4, 2010, made him hungry for more.
“It just blew me out of the water how much fun it was,” Burden said. “Being loud and being there with all the people.”
The main sports that Burden goes to are football, basketball and baseball. He averages 30-to-40 games a year. Burden also travels to some away games if they’re a reasonable distance from his home in Richmond.
“If it’s within about an hour or so of where I’m at, or it’s a good game, then I’ll definitely head out,” Burden said.
Burden isn’t shy about being outspoken at games. He enjoys being a leader in chants and cheers and getting the rest of the crowd involved.
“You start ‘Defense’ cheers up or you start ‘Let’s go Madison’ cheers up, sometimes all it takes is one person to start it and then everyone else joins,” Burden said. “So that’s how I really like to start chants like that and get stuff going.”
Burden also isn’t shy about his apparel at games. For the football game against Old Dominion University on Nov. 17, he and three friends made costumes of short yellow shorts, capes, face paint and paper crowns from Burger King.
“Just being out there in freezing cold with them, that was the most ridiculous thing I’ve done,” Burden said.
Basketball is the sport that Burden enjoys going to the most because of the atmosphere. Storming the court at men’s basketball’s Colonial Athletic Association championship-clinching game on Mar. 11 was also his favorite moment as a JMU fan.
“There’s something so much fun about being down on the floor at basketball games at the Convo, and yelling with friends and jumping around that way,” Burden said.
The sense of belonging that being a fan offers is really what makes Burden so passionate.
“I’m not good enough to play Division I basketball,” Burden said. “But I can yell and cheer for Devon Moore and Rayshawn Goins and Andre Nation when they’re out there playing. So it definitely makes me feel really a part of JMU.”
Mike Pazirandeh “The Inker”
Some students try to make their allegiance to JMU known everywhere they go. But sophomore marketing major Mike Pazirandeh literally wears his passion on his sleeve every day with a JMU tattoo.
Pazirandeh got the tattoo in August 2012 at Rick’s Tattoo in Arlinton, Va. It features the letters JMU written out with a tilted crown, similar to the one on the Duke dog logo, above it. The ink is part of a larger half-sleeve tattoo that Pazirendeh has. It took about four hours to complete in one sitting.
“It’s kind of like all the stuff that means things to me,” Pazirendeh said. “Like I’ve got an Aries ram tattoo and then I’ve got something from my high school and then I’ve also got a cross with a prayer, part of my favorite prayer.”
As Pazirendeh was pondering the larger tattoo, a friend suggested that he include JMU in it. His feelings for the school prompted him to follow through with the idea.
“I love this school,” Pazirendeh said. “I’d never transfer, definitely. I just love being here, I hate going home.”
Few people make the permanent decision of putting their school in a tattoo. Other students enjoy seeing the rarity.
“On the JMU part itself, I’ve gotten only positive feedback,” Pazirendeh said. “Everyone loves it.”
Though he has is open to the idea and is thinking about extending his half-sleeve tattoo into a full-sleeve tattoo, Pazirendeh currently isn’t planning on adding more JMU-themed ink.
Jonathan Blair “The Fashion Icon”
Senior Jonathan Blair has a taste for flair as a fan. The kinesiology major breaks out his purple sport coat for big games.
“People love the purple sport coat,” Blair said. “When we were in Richmond [for the men’s basketball CAA final], I don’t know how many people just came up to me out of the blue like, ‘Hey man, I love that sport coat.’”
Blair also isn’t shy about heckling opposing players. After a former George Mason University men’s basketball player pleaded guilty to credit card fraud in 2011, Blair made a giant credit card sign when the Patriots came to play JMU on Jan. 14, 2011.
“The Convocation Center administration was not too happy with that,” Blair said. “And so, I got kicked out of the Convocation Center for expressing my fandom in that way.”
During his freshman and sophomore years, Blair didn’t go to hardly any basketball games; he had several night classes those first two years. But Blair had a friend on the women’s basketball team’s male practice squad and started going to more and more games with him and other friends.
This year, Blair worked as an intern with the sports marketing department. Between working games and going as a fan, he only missed one basketball game this year, including both men’s and women’s games.
“If I wasn’t working a game, then I would always go just because I got to know both teams really well,” Blair said. “It’s just a lot of fun sitting in the student section.”
Blair has only missed a handful of football games during his time at JMU but football comes up as a close second to basketball as his favorite sport to attend. His best sports memory is rushing the court in Richmond on Mar. 11 after men’s basketball beat Northeastern University for its first Colonial Athletic Association championship in 19 years.
“I was in the front of the pack,” Blair said. “I just got out there and Devon [Moore] gave me a huge hug and it was amazing.”
The connection that Blair feels with JMU athletics is what helps to make him such a regular supporter.
“I’ve never been a huge professional sports fan, because I’ve never had any attachment to the teams,” Blair said. “Whereas with JMU, those are my friends out there and I’m just there to cheer them on and hope that they do their best.”