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Fans Make Most Of Distant Seats

By Liz Clarke and Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page D07

Long after Maryland had lost its opening-round game to Clemson, Chris VanSant and Ronnie Ruffner of Frederick sat watching North Carolina State crush Florida State in yesterday's second game from their perch at MCI Center.

The game wasn't terribly exciting, but VanSant and Ruffner, Maryland fans attending their first ACC tournament, weren't about to leave. They had paid $150 apiece on eBay for their tickets in Section 409, Row P, seats No. 11 and 12 -- the highest vantage point in the arena.

Maryland fans Chris VanSant, foreground, and Ronnie Ruffner had a blast despite their roost in the last row at MCI Center. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

"We knew it was behind the basket in the upper deck," VanSant said. "We didn't know it was the last row."

Even though the Terrapins lost early, VanSant was determined to get his money's worth of basketball.

"I'm sure there's more of a buzz [today], but it's been pretty good," he said. "I've enjoyed myself."

Ruffner was ready for the evening game between Virginia and Miami. Underneath his Maryland shirt, he wore a Cavaliers T-shirt.

"What sucks is it's the home floor of a Big East team," VanSant said. "But where else could they put it?"

A few rows down from VanSant and Ruffner, in Section 410, Row C, Jim and MaryAllen Martin of Winston-Salem, N.C., seemed less interested in the game than what members of the media were up to, particularly former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins and Mike Hogewood, who were doing the pregame and halftime television show.

The Martins, who are North Carolina fans, got their tickets from Georgia Tech fans. They didn't mind the lofty vista.

"You do get a good view," said Jim, binoculars in hand.

Although North Carolina did not play yesterday, the Martins enjoyed coming for the first day action. They also didn't mind the tournament had moved north from Greensboro, particularly since their son lives in Washington.

"This is a great trip for us," Jim said.

A Political Presence

From his faded blue jeans to navy blue blazer, former Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards had on so many shades of blue last night that it was hard to tell, at least at first blush, where his basketball loyalties resided as he made his way through the stands of MCI Center. But a simple question sleuthed out the truth.

"I'm a big Tar Heel fan! My kids are big Tar Heel fans!" said Edwards, 51, who graduated from N.C. State and earned his law degree at North Carolina. Edwards's two youngest children, Emma Claire, 6, and her younger brother, Jack, were in tow, letting go of their father's hands just long enough for him to shake the outstretched hands of well-wishers in Section 108.

Edwards pointed out he's a proud season ticker holder at North Carolina's Dean E. Smith Center.

"Of course I haven't been to many games; I've been traveling a lot for the last few years," he added, almost apologetically. "But we're big basketball fans and are looking forward to particularly the game tomorrow at noon!"

The top-seeded Tar Heels will face Clemson in today's first game.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company