For the Patriots, a Family Union
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Festus Campbell has a problem. His son, Folarin, will be playing in the biggest basketball game of his life on Saturday evening in Indianapolis, and Festus has to find a way to get himself -- and seven other people -- to the RCA Dome so they can watch George Mason play Florida in the Final Four.
His usual ride, a luxury sport-utility vehicle, won't be able to transport a group that includes his wife and daughter, the mother and brother of senior forward Jai Lewis, the mother and brother of senior guard Tony Skinn, and a family friend. He needs something bigger.
"I'm thinking about a Hummer," Campbell said. "But it might not be big enough."
The George Mason bandwagon has grown exponentially over the past two weeks as the 11th-seeded Patriots have made their stunning run through the NCAA tournament. For the people who were squarely on it from the beginning -- the parents of the players -- this has been a dizzying week of planning an unexpected trip to Indiana, divvying up tickets to the game and dealing with newfound celebrity.
The parents have had a front-row seat to one of the best sports stories of the year. And because eight players hail from either Maryland or Virginia, they've gotten to know each other while attending games together during the regular season.
"I love being at the games with the other parents because of the fellowship, the genuine love and affection for each other. I'd rather go to the games than go to the movies," said Pamela Butler, whose son, Lamar Butler Jr., is a senior guard.
"To tell the truth, you know the parents better than the kids," said Brian Norwood, the father of junior guard Gabe Norwood. "You know the players, but you really know the moms and dads and brothers and sisters. You get to the point where you look forward to seeing them, and you wonder where they are when they're not there."
They've been easy to find during the tournament. Lamar Butler Sr. usually is dressed in head-to-toe green and gold. He and his son, the one with the huge smile, have become such magnets for reporters that Pamela jokes that she won't walk next to them, for fear that she'll be accosted as well.
The Flemings -- Steve, Trudy and Carly (the father, mother and sister of freshman forward Chris Fleming) -- have been wearing the same George Mason T-shirts throughout the run (thankfully, they wash them between games). Trudy Fleming blew up head shots of each of the players and coaches, attached them to popsicle sticks and distributed them to the proper parent or wife to wave during the games.
Festus Campbell is the one with the cameras. He has been snapping pictures and making videos of Folarin since birth, and he claims he never goes anywhere without his digital camera and his video camera (though the latter, sadly, is prohibited in the tournament arenas). Campbell estimates that he takes close to 150 pictures a game, not just of his son, but of all the players.
"That is my job as a father," said Campbell, whose TiVo is filled with George Mason games and local news reports on the Patriots. "Some people don't know when their kids grow up. That is why I take pictures and videos."
The most fervent fan isn't a relative. Phaaedra Parker has been attending Folarin Campbell's games since he and her son, Luciaun Parker-Beverly, played on the same AAU team in middle school. She attends nearly every game, both home and away, and has essentially adopted the Patriots as her own. In the tournament, she has been wearing homemade T-shirts. She irons on pictures of all the players, and then her daughter cuts the shirts into fashionable shapes, like halters or tank tops.