March Madness inspires some true hoops maniacs

The disease known as "March Madness" has been known to inspire some true craziness among basketball devotees around the nation. But these four women spent 56 hours in a car just to watch four Vanderbilt NCAA Tournament games last weekend... and they say they still haven't had enough. Have they completely lost their minds? You be the judge.

NASHVILLE-- For your average Vanderbilt basketball fan, the thrill of seeing the Commodores for a full home schedule while sporting wacky black and gold Mardi Gras beads yields more than enough excitement.

Maybe a handful of fans with flexible jobs are able to travel to away games at exotic locations like Starkville, Miss. or Fayetteville, Ark. But the infamous disease known as March Madness has struck Nashville in a big way-- and has borne a new breed of super fans, fans that this reporter hereby dubs "March Maniacs."

Nell Moore, Julie Popp, Irene Womack, and Joanna Fitzpatrick are four Commodore March Maniacs that last week took fan support to the ultimate level. These three amigas drove 15 hours to Orlando to cheer on Matt Frieje and the gang against Western Michigan in the first round of the men's NCAA Tournament Friday afternoon-- then left immediately after the game to get to Chattanooga in time to show their gold for Jenni B., Hillary H., and the Commodore women against Lipscomb in the Women's NCAA Tournament Saturday afternoon.

"We've loved following the seniors all season," said Fitzpatrick. "It's great to support them for both teams in the tournament like this."

At this point, after driving 28 hours in three days, the idea of relaxing in Chattanooga until the next women's game would have been an appealing one for most fans. But March Maniacs are not "most fans"-- they couldn't willingly take a breather while their beloved Commodore men's team was to battle for a spot in the Sweet 16 on a Sunday afternoon.

As soon as the women's team secured the first round victory, the maniacs packed up the black and gold beads, put on some good ol' country truckin' music, and headed back to Orlando in time to see the men's game vs. North Carolina State. The maniacs were rewarded with a true classic, as the Commodores erased a double-digit lead in the final three minutes to eliminate the Wolfpack.

By now, you can probably guess the rest... the maniacs hopped back in the car to drive back to Chattanooga to support the Vandy women in their Monday evening victory over the Chattanooga Lady Mocs.

"It's a great thing to have two Sweet 16 teams in," Julie Popp said.

A great thing and a rare thing-- it's been 11 years since both Vanderbilt teams have made it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.

By late Monday night, the quartet was safely back home in Music City.

On Tuesday the Vandy men departed for Phoenix for a Thursday Sweet 16 encounter with second-seeded UConn. Twelve hours later... the four Vandy Maniacs were right behind, catching a flight for Phoenix at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday.

This Sunday the Commodore women's team will meet Stanford, the No. 6 seed in the Midwest Region in Norman, Okla.-- giving the Maniacs ample time to find a Phoenix-to-Oklahoma City flight after the men's game against UConn is over.
"We've had a wonderful week watching basketball," Nell Moore said. "And we plan to have another wonderful week watching basketball!"

So what's with all this hoopla about the women's team using a stuffed animal as a good luck charm? The Commodores don't need a good luck charm when they've got the four real live Vandy Maniacs supporting them. Besides, "ALF" doesn't even wear beads. Top Stories