'It's that Jesuit magic'
Gonzaga's campus in state of hysteria over Sweet 16 win
Posted: Friday March 19, 1999 07:50 PM
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- A small Jesuit-run university is shedding its straitlaced image with the ascension of its basketball team into the NCAA's Elite Eight.
This week, academics seem to have taken a back seat to athletics and celebrations during Gonzaga's remarkable run.
But nobody in campus officialdom seems to be complaining -- not even Gonzaga's security director, who was surprised when about 1,500 students staged an impromptu rally following Thursday night's 73-72 upset of Florida.
The gathering was the biggest in memory on the campus of 4,506 students.
A few celebrants broke bottles in a campus square next to a statue of Gonzaga alumnus Bing Crosby that had been decked out in an NCAA basketball T-shirt and a "Go Zags" sign.
Some male students ran with their shirts off, hung from tree branches and rode an antique fire engine, siren wailing, through the streets.
Afterward, students picked up the refuse amid the campus' turn-of-the-century buildings. And the statue of the famed crooner had shed its basketball attire by Friday morning.
"That's indicative of the spirit here," security director Jeffery D. Hart said. "I think there's a reputation that we're more studious and regimented than other schools.
"But we've shown we can have fun, Everybody is getting in on it now."
University president Robert Spitzer and several other campus administrators have spent much of the week in Phoenix, site of the NCAA's West Region finals.
With them are hundreds of students who took the week after spring break off and boarded chartered buses for the 1,300-mile journey to Arizona, leaving behind the mid-March chill of this Eastern Washington city of 188,300.
Those who stayed behind have become accustomed to seeing empty seats in classrooms, and television crews visiting campus to tell the story of the team's cinderella run to the Elite Eight.
Meanwhile, some classes have been canceled or cut short.
"It's been really difficult to study at all this week," said senior Peter Tuenge, a history and philosophy double-major from Boulder, Colo. "The professors are being lenient, which is great. They've become caught up in the excitement, too."
Though Gonzaga's tournament run has trimmed the ranks of students on campus, there's been no shortage of artists to spray-paint tributes to the Bulldogs on a campus wall officially designated for graffiti.
On Friday, graffiti painted following the Bulldogs' first- and second round victories over Minnesota and Stanford was replaced by an "Elite Eight" design.
It's heady stuff for a school that has an annual athletic budget of just $3.2 million and does not field a football team.
Some joke that divine forces are at work.
"It's that Jesuit magic," said Laura Curd, one of the graffiti artists. "It's almost like God's on our side. Everything is falling into place."
The university was founded in 1887 and named for St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a 16th century Jesuit priest remembered these days as the patron saint of youth.
Students on Friday expressed confidence in their team, but acknowledge the 10th-seeded Bulldogs may need divine assistance in defeating top-seeded Connecticut in Saturday's West Region final.
"We may be near the end of the run, but with the way things have been going, another upset is definitely possible," said freshman Mark Case. "We might go all the way."
"But we won't be a cinderella team any more. Next year, everyone will shooting for us."
Basketball success is nothing new at Gonzaga, which plays in the low-profile West Coast Conference. The most famous former Bulldogs player is the Utah Jazz' John Stockton, the all-time NBA assists leader, and Gonzaga has won at least 20 games six times this decade.
Even if the Bulldogs lose Saturday, the school will have succeeded in getting more of the national media to pronounce the school's name correctly. For the record, it's "Gone-zag'-uh."
"We didn't have any expectations coming into the tournament, so the excitement has just been building with each win," Tuenge said. "With the success of the basketball team, our academic reputation is being enhanced. It's nice to have this kind of attention."
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