The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘What is UMBC? We’re for real.’ For one graduate, victory, validation and Natty Boh.

UMBC fans at the game vs. Virginia in Charlotte. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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BALTIMORE — Zach Walsh is sick of hearing his alma mater called a commuter school. In fact, he’s sick of a lot of things: that Twitter seems to believe the University of Maryland Baltimore County is a satellite of the University of Maryland in College Park, or that it’s the University of Baltimore, or that the friend who invited him to MaGerk’s Pub here in the Federal Hill neighborhood picked No. 1 seed Virginia to trounce the Retrievers and win the NCAA tournament.

How many would have picked UMBC? A team seeded 16th had played a No. 1 seed 135 times before in the history of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It lost every time.

Then, after 38 minutes of play in Charlotte and several hundred beers consumed by those watching at this Federal Hill bar, came belief. Virginia Coach Tony Bennett told his players not to foul to stop the clock. The bar erupted in screams.

“We were going f—ing crazy,” said Walsh, who said he graduated from UMBC in 2013, as he sipped a can of National Bohemian beer. “It was crazy. It was the whole ‘we might do this’ feeling. It’s history, baby!”

D.C. Sports Bog: Everyone celebrated UMBC’s historic victory … by posting photos of their doggies

Make that 1-135, thanks to the former commuter school in Catonsville, just outside Baltimore. Like bumper stickers on area residents’ cars say, “Life’s great in 21228.”

High school students who contemplate the school have long been subjected to a teasing acronym: “U Made a Bad Choice.”

Now who’s laughing?

“I saw so many tweets that say, ‘What is UMBC?’ ” Walsh said. “We’re for real.”

For the record, UMBC was founded in 1966 to accommodate the growing children of baby boomers. It has an undergraduate enrollment of about 11,000, more than a quarter of whom are Asian American and a fifth of whom are black. Its president, Freeman A. Hrabowski III, is beloved statewide and in 2012 was named to Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people.

Photos from UMBC?s historic upset of No.1 Virginia in the NCAA tournament

Virginia center Jack Salt (33) and UMBC forward Daniel Akin (30) go for the ball during the opening tip in their first round game of the NCAA Tournament at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C. (Peter Casey/Usa Today Sports)

Its mascot is the Chesapeake Bay Retriever; the dogs have “a mind of their own and can tenaciously pursue their own path,” according to the American Kennel Club.

Sound familiar?

Late Friday on the corner of West Cross and Patapsco streets, students and alumni barked out woofs to celebrate the win. Fans chanted “U-M-B-C!” as they passed each other on the sidewalk.

“I like that this puts us on the map,” said Will Sasser, the friend who picked U-Va. in his March Madness bracket. “This is for real.”

Next, the Retrievers face No. 9 seed Kansas State, which beat Creighton, a team that spent half the year ranked in the top 25.

Walsh isn’t worried.

“A nine seed?” he said. “Did you just see what we did to Virginia?”

More on UMBC and the NCAA tournament:

No. 16 seed UMBC knocks out No. 1 Virginia

Brewer: UMBC proved again that in sports, not even history goes undefeated

Recapping Day 2 of the NCAA tournament

Feinstein: Jairus Myles turned down a shot at big time for a bigger legacy at UMBC

Sister Jean will pray for Loyola vs. Tennessee. But she’ll do the scouting herself.

One crying moment: 15 of the toughest defeats in NCAA tournament history