GMU Bandwagon At Overflow Capacity

Patriots forward Sammy Hernandez signs an autograph for Martha Lagerberg after he was surrounded by fans as he walked through the George W. Johnson Center on the Fairfax campus.
Patriots forward Sammy Hernandez signs an autograph for Martha Lagerberg after he was surrounded by fans as he walked through the George W. Johnson Center on the Fairfax campus. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

You could have rolled a bowling ball down any aisle in the basement of the student bookstore at George Mason University yesterday morning and not hit a soul.

Seated behind the counter, flanked by "Death in Venice" on the right and "Introduction to Paralegalism" on the left, Lauren Clare, a freshman English major partial to Jane Austen, patiently answered one phone call after another from what has become Mason Nation. They bay for T-shirts, caps, anything green and gold. "Yes, we do have infant wear," she said.

"We usually get our UPS shipments in after 10 a.m.," she told a caller asking about Final Four shirts.

"Hey," came a voice from the staircase, "You got any Lamar Butler jerseys?"

Sorry.

Clare is fine with it. "For the first time," she said, "I feel like we're a college."

From the administration offices to the switchboards -- where the recorded greeting is now "Welcome to George Mason University, home of a Final Four basketball team" -- the 34-year-old Fairfax school exulted in the Patriots' extraordinary upset victory over top-seeded Connecticut on Sunday. Off campus, Virginia's governor and legislature and the Fairfax Board of Supervisors also hailed the team, which will face Florida in the national semifinals Saturday.

It was the beginning of an improbable week at the summit of college basketball, and across the campus was the sense that no matter what the outcome in Indianapolis, this was a moment to savor.

"It's been pretty amazing," said Justin Procopio, 20, a geography major from Richmond, as he passed the statue of George Mason, now swathed in green and gold with "Go Kryptonite Kidz" emblazoned across his chest.

Classes seemed reasonably well attended, but it was hard to miss the wink-and-nod in Provost Peter Stearns's early morning e-mail to faculty:

"Without in any way wishing to distort our priorities," Stearns wrote, "I write to urge a bit of leniency in response to any absences from undergraduate classes today. Thanks for your understanding."

It seemed as if everyone had a way of spinning the team's triumph in the direction of their own aspirations and passions. Theater professor Ed Gero, who is seeking tenure, said he included a 2001 letter from Coach Jim Larranaga as a part of his application. "Coach L," as he called him, praised a class that some of the players took.


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