Stephen F. Austin fans whooped, hollered, clapped and howled at TV screens as they watched their home team compete for a spot in the coveted Sweet 16 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Sunday evening.
A Tyler watch party filled half of Buffalo Wild Wings with Lumberjack fans, clad in their signature purple shirts.
Craig Turnage, alumni relations director of the college, said there are more than 100,000 living SFA alumni, and they gathered in similar parties across the state and beyond.
The Lumberjacks battled the University of California, Los Angeles Bruins in a game many game sports analysts did not expect would happen. SFA narrowly won an upset victory over Virginia Commonwealth University on Friday.
“It does your heart some good,” Turnage, a 2000 and 2005 alumnus, said. “Basketball is kind of a leveling sport — it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got. We are up and competing against the big boys, and we are just as good as anyone else.”
Brian Tuttle, a 1972 alumnus and Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity member, said it was great to see the school pride and meet alumni from several generations.
“I ran into more fraternity brothers this weekend than I’ve seen in a long time, and they were all in purple,” he said. “Sometimes it takes something like this to rattle us out of the boxes and remind us of where we came from.”
Curtis Sparks, a 1985 alumnus, said his friends jokingly had a wager on how many times the announcers would mispronounce the name of the oldest town in Texas — Nacogdoches, home of SFA.
“For us to get here is a big deal and for us to get past the first round is a bigger deal,” Sparks said. “We are glad to have the opportunity.”
Darlene Ussery, a 1980 alumna, said Californians might also be confused that SFA, named after the Father of Texas, is not in the city of Austin.
“I think this is pretty cool,” she said. “If you ask anybody in Tyler, Texas, ‘where is UCLA?’ most of them are going to know, but if you ask (Californians), where Stephen F. Austin is, they aren’t going to know or they are going to say ‘Austin.’ We are just a little bitty town.”
The Lumberjacks trailed for most of the game, and were not able to catch up to UCLA. The Bruins defeated SFA, 77-60, in San Diego. SFA did not advance to the next round of the tournament, but the team’s place in their fans’ hearts is unwavering.
“We are still proud of them anyway,” Sparks said.
Turnage said win or lose, the team played well and made their school proud.
“You can’t buy this type of publicity for the school,” he said. “We have been all over the New York Times, LA Times, ESPN, CBS Sports — you name. … That is great for the school. Win, lose or drawn it’s still a win-win for us.”