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'Travelin' Texans Near Goal

It has taken 31 years, almost 50,000 miles in the air and 80,000 on the road, and more than $40,000, but three basketball junkies from Texas are nearing their goal of personally seeing each of the NCAA's 310 Division I men's basketball teams in action.

E. Thayne King of Huntsville (top), Dru King of Grapevine (middle), and Steve Dierker of Corinth (bottom), call themselves the "Travelin' Texans," and may in fact be the most fanatical college basketball fans in the United States. They have one game to go--Feb. 27 in Houston when the University of Houston plays Marquette at Hofheinz Pavilion. They've seen the University of Houston many times, but never Marquette.

In 1999 they have already been to Tennessee to see Eastern Kentucky, East
Tennessee State and Wofford, to North Carolina for North Carolina State and Wake Forest, to Maryland to see Quinnipiac, and back to Illinois, where it all started, for Austin Peay and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

E. Thayne and Dru are brothers. E. Thayne and Steve met while attending Eastern Illinois University, which Dru also attended.

"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 was a scorekeeper in high
school and my brother did the same."

After their college years all moved to Texas. E. Thayne is director of residence life at Sam Houston State University, Dru is a claims manager for an insurance company and Steve is between jobs. Steve and Dru both have VERY understanding wives. E. Thayne is not married.

They became hooked on basketball as a result of the excitement of Illinois high school competition.

"In Illinois basketball is king," said E. Thayne. "Every game in grade school and high school was a life or death experience."

There is just something about basketball that makes E. Thayne wax almost poetic.

"Basketball is continual action," he said, "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. 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 start counting teams they had seen and seeking those they had not until 1990.

"In early 1990 we were sitting at a game in Dallas and someone wondered out loud how many 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 to see them all. There were approximately 275 teams at that time." Thus began basketball vacations, built around holiday tournaments where they could cross off several teams, and journeys to the far reaches of the college basketball world.

Their records indicate that beginning this season, when they were down to their last 20 teams, they had driven 78,205 miles, flown 49,453 miles, and spent $42,337.12, including $5,059 for tickets, $1,674 for snacks at games, and $2,000 for game programs.

Through the years they have come up with some interesting favorites:

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 State Showgirls, with E. Thayne adding the award-winning Sam Houston State Orange Pride as well;

Best Coach--Two out of three agree on John Wooden, whom they have had a chance to meet while on their travels, and one vote going to Dean Smith;

Coach We'd Most Like to Play For--Two out of three go for Duke's 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 (ex-Texas A&M) honorable mention;

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 a Collegian.

These opinions are the result of many trips like their 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 college campuses, saw a women's post-season championship game, and toured New York City.

An indication that they have maintained their enthusiasm for it all was this January's trip to an entirely different area of the United States--the West Coast.

In addition to seeing the necessary college basketball games, the group took in a San Jose Sharks hockey game, a Golden State Warriors basketball game, visited Santa Cruz and Monterrey (where they saw the aquarium and drove past Pebble Beach).

They stopped at the Pebble Beach pro shop and checked out the 18th hole, then made the typical tourist stops at Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Alcatraz, Lombard Street and the Golden Gate Bridge.

They wrapped up the trip's "extras" with a San Jose State-University of Hawaii baseball game, an ABL playoff game at San Jose State between San Jose and Columbus, and drove out to Point Reyes lighthouse for one of the earth's great views of the Pacific.

The long trips have been fun and profitable from the overall goal standpoint, but many teams have come to them as well.

"Fortunately," said 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."

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 been on ESPN, on Web pages devoted to college basketball, and even have clothing with their own Travelin' Texans logo.

As an example of the kind of attention their project is drawing, when they were in Albuquerque in late December they were interviewed by the local newspaper and on all three local television stations.

The three say they are sometimes asked "Why?" Their answers:

Dru King--"I love college basketball and traveling."

Steve Dierker--"The appeal for me is the 'Americana' of it all and the travel."

E. Thayne King--"It's been a blast. Somebody had to do it."

And what happens when they've crossed that last team off their list?

"We're planning on playing a round of golf in every state and every Texas county," said E. Thayne. "Except for Dru. I think he may like baseball even more than basketball."

- END -

Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Feb. 10, 1999
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