A Little Bit Of Hog Heaven In Dallas

DALLAS -- Little did Rick Sepulveda know when he met University of Arkansas fan Julia Schrantz of Pine Bluff 12 years ago that he would someday be helping accommodate hundreds of UA basketball fans at an NCAA Tournament site.

Sepulveda is the convention services manager for the Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown Dallas, headquarters for Arkansas' team and many of its fans this week.

When Robert Mann, the personable store director for Hog Heaven in Fayetteville, met Sepulveda and asked to move some Hog Heaven merchandise to the Adam's Mark this week, the two men became fast friends.

Sepulveda agreed to let Mann set up shop in the Live Oak Room on the second floor of the hotel and begin selling Arkansas T-shirts, hats, jerseys, autographed basketballs and the like, beginning at noon today.

"Wait until you hear Rick's story," Mann said while getting the merchandise ready.

It's a good one.

"I met Julia on a cruise," said Sepulveda, originally from Portugal. "I was her waiter. It was a Love Boat thing.

"We got married in Eureka Springs in January of 1994, and on our way back from our honeymoon she proposed that we go to an Arkansas basketball game. I don't remember who Arkansas played, but it was a pretty big game. This was the year they won the national championship."

Mann, who has found Sepulveda to be very accommodating this week, said, "Small world, huh?"

Mann, a veteran of NCAA Tournament trips involving the Razorbacks, plans to man the Live Oak Room from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. the rest of this week, as long as the Hogs are still alive in the tournament.

"I figure we may have as many as 8,000 to 9,000 Arkansas fans in Dallas this week," Mann said. "We'll sell shirts, hats, CDs of the Arkansas Band playing the fight song, and other items."

Helping Mann set up on Wednesday were Bruce Sears, a product developer and buyer for the Hog Heaven online catalogue store in Dallas (www.hogheavenonline.com); and customer reps Guy Redding, Brent Partlow and DeMarcus Brown.

Sears, a west Texas native who graduated from Texas Tech in the late 1980s, admitted, "We were always quite envious of Arkansas' teams."

It was Sears, who hatched the idea for a novelty UA T-shirt this week.

"On the front it says, 'You can go back,'" Sears said. "And on the back it says, 'Barnhill South, Dallas Texas.' There's a little running Hog on both sides."

The shirts will arrive today.

When Arkansas used to dominate the old Southwest Conference Tournament in Reunion Arena in Dallas in the 1980s, Barnhill South was the name given to Reunion Arena.

It remains to be seen if the phrase catches on in the American Airlines Center, site of this week's games.

Arkansas' basketball team and official party arrived at the Adam's Mark on Wednesday night, after the Razorbacks practiced in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

Besides the team's accommodations, the Adam's Mark set aside 36 rooms for UA fans each night.

North Carolina State's team is also staying at the Adam's Mark.

As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, only eight rooms there had been filled by Arkansas fans. But it was still more than 41 hours before the eighth-seeded Razorbacks would take on No. 9 seed Bucknell in what is called the Oakland Region.

"There's another, bigger room, outside the ballroom we're using this week, and I don't think it's being used," Mann said. "Maybe our fans can get together there in the mornings."

Mann loaded a Penske truck full of UA merchandise on Tuesday afternoon, left Fayetteville at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday and hit downtown Dallas by early afternoon.

"I brought fixtures and computers from our store in Reynolds Razorback Stadium," Mann said. "We've got a 600-square-foot area for our merchandise here."

Mann has a ticket for Friday's Arkansas game, but isn't sure if he'll be able to get away for it.

There will be a UA pep rally at 10 a.m. Friday near the north entrance of American Airlines Center, featuring Arkansas' band and spirit groups.

When those groups performed at similar pep rallies outside the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, Tenn., last week before Arkansas' games in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, fans from other SEC schools watched and, in some cases, joined in the fun.

Some fans of the Tennessee Vols, who had lost Friday afternoon, even cheered the Razorbacks during an Arkansas-based TV station's live report.

Jean Nail, spirit coordinator for both men's and women's basketball at Arkansas, received numerous compliments for her groups' performances in Nashville, including the UA dance team's boffo halftime show.

Arkansas fans won't number the 30,000-plus who have called the Hogs at some Cottom Bowls here, or the 12,000 that sometimes found their way into Reunion Arena, but if there are 8,000 as Mann hopes, he should have a successful weekend.

Particularly if Arkansas beats Bucknell to advance to a 3:45 p.m. Sunday game against the Oral Roberts-Memphis winner.

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