GMU Was in a Different League; Let's Hope That Doesn't Change

By Marc Fisher
Sunday, April 2, 2006


Sometimes it's worth staying out past midnight, even if your carriage turns into a pumpkin.

Even as thousands of George Mason University students stood, faces fallen, chants silenced, even as guys such as John Macias and Ted Pokin considered the reality of the dance being over just 13 hours after they completed their 13-hour road trip to Indianapolis, even as the armchair experts under the big dome talked about Mason being outclassed, nobody doubted that the glass slipper will reap rewards for years to come.

George Mason, the 18th-century guy, refused to sign the Constitution of the United States because he said it needed more rights guaranteed -- more liberty, more pursuit of happiness.

The team that bears his name pursued its happy dream to the finish. And though the players ended this night with heads hanging and a long trip home ahead of them, it's essential to note what they accomplished on their way to Indianapolis.

A school that didn't exist 35 years ago, in a county of a million people that's known largely as an appendage to a city half its size, is now firmly on the map.

"It's all about the little guy," said Pokin, who graduated from Mason three years ago and now works for a defense contractor in Reston.

"Now people know what Mason is," said his friend Macias, a senior at the Fairfax school.

All weekend long, the contrast between Mason and the other schools represented here has been stark. You could choose to see it as an embarrassing gap, or as proud evidence of a superior value system.

At the Big Dance concert in downtown Indy, the rock bands gave way to a competitive pep rally featuring the cheerleaders, dancers and bands of the Final Four colleges. The bands from Florida, Louisiana State and UCLA were crisper and more polished than the Mason ensemble. The other schools' dancers wore far skimpier and sleazier costumes -- the UCLA coeds even sported chokers and nighties. In contrast, the Mason students looked like something out of the 1950s.

But when the teams ran onto the hardwood, it didn't matter that the Florida players were preceded by beefy male cheerleaders waving enormous flags in the school colors. The non-Floridians in the crowd were overwhelmingly on Cinderella's side, and as the game progressed, you could see those who weren't so inclined come over to the Patriots.

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