WRITTEN BY MARK HOUSER
They call it March Madness for a reason. The NCAA basketball tournament brings out the most fanatical, the ones who will move mountains – or cross them – to root for their beloved teams. Ray DePofi ’91 can tell you a story or two.
In 1989, he and George Welker ’91, a fellow hoops nut from the same floor in Adams Hall, spent two days on a train to Boise, Idaho, to see their team play. “As far as a student section, we were it,” DePofi remembers. It was a tough game – top seed Arizona suffocated the Colonials, who got only one basket in the first seven minutes. The next year, George and Ray carpooled down to Atlanta to see Robert Morris almost shock Kansas in the first round, falling 79-71. Two years later, the two grads met up in Arizona to see UCLA manhandle their alma mater.
It was their last tournament together. Welker died of cystic fibrosis in 2001. DePofi, a data transcriber in Burghill, Ohio, is on dialysis. He still follows the team, but was unable to make RMU’s return to the tourney in Minneapolis last year. This March, with the Colonials up against Villanova in Providence, DePofi got to thinking about his old friend. “I’m sure that he would have chastised me had I not at least made the attempt.”
So on a Wednesday morning, as soon as his blood had filtered through the machines, DePofi jumped in a car with another loyal alumnus, Steve Kennaday. Ten hours later – his shortest NCAA road trip so far – there they were. The next day was true Madness, as three excited busloads of RMU fans morphed into a whole arena roaring for the underdog, in an overtime thriller just a whistle away from being an upset for the ages.
All four times were special, DePofi says. “You go to college for the experience, and it’s a lot more than classrooms and textbooks. We did whatever we could to make it, because you never know how many opportunities you’re going to get. You have to look at every year as that’s your one opportunity to go and be a part of something like this.”
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