"March Madness" is generally considered to be the frenzy that college basketball fans work themselves into each spring during championship competition. It affects different people with different levels of intensity--most often depending on whether or not their favorite teams are in the playoffs.
Nearing 'Mad' Goal
Some might say that three guys from Texas, who can legitimately claim to be the most avid college basketball fans in the United States, are "mad." As in "crazy." Or "nuts." Others might say that they are simply "insane."
They call themselves "The Travelin' Texans," and their pursuit of and appreciation for college basketball has lasted for 30 years. It has become a quest that will end only when they have personally witnessed a game of each of the NCAA Division I men's basketball teams.
The NCAA says that next season (1998-'99) there will be 311 colleges playing Division I men's basketball. By then, the Travelin' Texans will have seen them all. In early February, 1998, they were down to 31 teams. By the end of play this year in March they expect to have the number whittled to 20.
The principals in this wacky endeavor are E. Thayne King (top) of Huntsville, Dru King (middle) of Grapevine, and Steve Dierker (bottom) of Corinth (just south of Denton).
While they have logged thousands of highway and air miles in, around, and out of Texas--their current base of operations--they might also be called the Travelin' Transplants.
E. Thayne and Steve met while attending Eastern Illinois University. E. Thayne and Dru are brothers, and Dru also attended Eastern Illinois.
"I played two years in grade school and one year in high school," said E. Thayne, "but I was left behind because I grew late in high school. However, I became the head scorekeeper for the freshman team, the junior varsity and the varsity teams throughout high school. My brother did the same during high school."
By 1979 all had moved to Texas. E. Thayne is director of residence life at Sam Houston State University. Steve is a shipping manager for Willamette Industries, Inc., a paper company, and Dru is a claims analyst for the American International Group insurance company.
Steve and Dru both have VERY understanding wives. E. Thayne is not married.
E. Thayne said that they all became hooked on basketball as a result of the excitement of Illinois high school competition.
"We grew up in Illinois, where basketball is king, much as football is in Texas," said E. Thayne. "It's a passion we've had since we were kids, taking every game in grade school and high school as a life or death experience, hoping we would be good enough to advance in the state high school playoffs."
Steve remembers growing up in Quincy, Ill., and listening to regular season high school games on the radio with his dad.
They all remember listening to the high school championship games on radio, from Champaign, Ill., then seeing them on television. When they were in college, Eastern Illinois hosted high school playoff games, and by that time they were hooked on the sport.
"Basketball is continual action," said E. Thayne, "unlike football and baseball where most of the time is actually between the brief moments of action. Fans can be very close to the players, and can influence the outcome of the game.
"The athleticism of college basketball players is on display continuously throughout a game. You're right there with them on the court. The frequency of spectacular athleticism is seen much less often in baseball or football."
While each was a serious basketball fan, and went to lots of games, they didn't get serious about counting up the teams and seeking out teams they had not seen until 1990.
"In early 1990 we were sitting at a game in Dallas and someone wondered out loud how many of the Division I games we might have seen over the years," said E. Thayne. "We all went home and checked our programs, ticket stubs, etc., and found that we had seen somewhere in the 65-75 range each.
"Then we wondered if it could be possible if we could see all of them. There were approximately 275 teams at that time."
Thus began the basketball vacations, built around holiday tournaments where they could cross off several teams, and journeys to the far reaches of the college basketball world.
Along the way they have become walking college basketball encyclopedias. Earlier this season E. Thayne, who keeps statistics at Sam Houston State University Bearkat games, went down to the official scorer to complain that a relatively complicated foul-shooting situation had been handled wrong. When play stopped several minutes later, the referees came over and corrected their error.
Through the years the three have come up with an interesting list of favorites. Some of them include:
Favorite Foods Served at Basketball Arenas--brownie bars at North Texas, sausage wraps at TCU, caramel apples at Bradley, papachos at Reunion Arena (Dallas), chocolate chip cookies at Robert Morris, boiled peanuts at Southwestern Louisiana and "bear bars" at Southwest Missouri.
Favorite Dance Squads--all three agree on the Memphis St. Showgirls, with E. Thayne adding the current NCAA Division I-AA national champion Sam Houston State Orange Pride as well.
Best Coach--two out of three agree on John Wooden, with one vote going to Dean Smith. Coach We'd Most Like to Play For--two out of three go for Mike Krzyzewski.
Coach Most Likely to Have Stroke While Coaching--Barry Hinson (Oral Roberts) three votes, Jack Armstrong (Niagara) two votes, John Chaney (Temple) and Tony Barone (Texas A&M) honorable mention. (When you've seen this many games, you can vote more than once).
Best Fans (Big-time Program)--Kansas two votes; Best Fans (Smaller Programs)--Eastern Illinois and University of Dayton, one each.
Among the player favorite categories, Larry Bird got votes for Best One Game Performance, Favorite Player and Best Pro Player Seen as Collegian.
Their opinions are the results of many trips like the first one to the New England area. They saw 12 teams at one conference tournament and six at another, saw a Boston Celtics basketball game, a New England Whalers hockey game, toured the New England Aquarium in Boston and the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., made it a point to drive through all six New England States, visited 10 or 11 colleges campus, saw a women's post-season championship game, and toured New York City.
Many of the new sightings, however, have resulted not from long trips but a year-around poring over the schedules of "nearby" schools.
"Fortunately," says E. Thayne, "there are 15 Division I teams within a 3-4 hour drive of Huntsville, eight of which are only a couple of hours or less away. Beyond that, there are another 10-15 teams that are easily reachable for a weekend game."
Later this month the trio plans a west coast trip to see Sacramento State at home Feb . 27, the first round of the West Coast Conference tournament Feb. 28, and as a bonus, the delayed final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Their last "sightings" for this year will come on that west coast swing on March 5, when they hope to join First Daughter Chelsea Clinton for the Oregon at Stanford game.
With teams they expect to see on that trip marked off, the 20 teams left for next year will be Wyoming, Washington State, Portland State, Cal-Northridge, Denver, Wisconsin, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marquette, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Detroit, Eastern Kentucky, Austin Peay, East Tennessee, Western Carolina, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, Norfolk State, Quinnipiac and Wofford.
Among other basketball nuts, the project is becoming famous. E. Thayne is listed on the Sam Houston State University Experts Guide under "March Madness." The three have already had a 4 1/2 minute segment on ESPN, a year ago, and were featured on a University of Kentucky basketball enthusiast's World Wide Web page for awhile. They even have clothing with their own Travelin' Texans logo.
The three say they are sometimes asked "Why?" Their answers:
Dru--"I love college basketball and traveling."
Steve--"The appeal for me is the 'Americana' of it all and the travel."
E. Thayne--"It's been a blast. Somebody had to do it."
And what happens when they've crossed off all of remaining teams on their list?
"We're thinking about playing a round of golf in every state," said E. Thayne.
Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Feb. 10, 1998