- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

The Fairfax Social Club is no group of sunshine Patriots.

Through ups and downs, in good times and bad — such as when Tremaine Price’s pass to George Evans rolled between his legs and out of bounds in the last minute against the University of Maryland in the first round of the 2001 NCAA men’s basketball tournament — the die-hard fans of the green and gold have been there every step.

For the FSC, tonight’s Final Four appearance is merely confirmation of a truth they have known for years. It’s just that, now, everyone else knows.

“It’s not just the fact that we’re ecstatic to get in the Final Four, we’re excited about Coach L [Larranaga], about these guys who weren’t even looked at by a major school and they came here — housewives in North Dakota know about George Mason University now,” said Yamah Tabibi, 33, a 1997 graduate and campus recruiter for a consulting firm.

A group of about 10 thirtysomethings who graduated from George Mason in the mid-to-late 1990s, the Fairfax Social Club transcends race, religion, occupation and even location — there are members in San Francisco and Orlando, Fla. — in pursuit of a common dream: Patriots basketball glory.

At Brion’s Grille in Fairfax Thursday night, the friends celebrated after securing tickets to see their team make history in Indianapolis when they play the University of Florida tonight.

“This is what, eventually, we were all together for,” said Michael McNutt, 32, a 1995 graduate who works as a meeting and events manager.

The group traces its origins to a chance encounter before a game against conference foe James Madison University, when they were talking Patriots basketball at a restaurant and recognized each other as fellow posters on an online message board and made the road trip to Harrisonburg, Va., together to see the game in fall 2000.

“And we’ve been a family ever since,” said Josh Holman, a 30-year-old special education teacher who graduated in 1999.

That year, the FSC hosted its first homecoming after-party for the team (George Mason doesn’t have a football team so homecoming takes place during basketball season), which drew hundreds of fans and quickly became a tradition. The self-described “kings of Mason tailgating” also credit themselves with building the school’s fan base through their pregame high jinx.

At the 2002 homecoming game, undeterred by a heavy ice and snow storm, the group rented a moving truck and filled it with catered food, music and a table for drinking games.

“The best feeling was we turned the corner and passed by security … we said, ‘Oh, no — we belong here,’” Mr. McNutt recalled. “That pretty much set it off.”

The next year, with the help of Brion’s Grille in Fairfax — owned by former George Mason basketball player Brion Sumser — and other sponsors, the FSC rented a miniature racetrack and several remote-controlled cars and invited the public to race for prizes.

In 2004, The group held tricycle races on an inflatable obstacle course.

Last year, they again defied inclement weather by setting up tents with heaters and bringing their own cook and barbecue smoker.

For 2006, suggestions of a dunk tank, petting zoo or bowling lane have been floated.

While they’re not an official university group — to become one would require “too much paperwork,” said Brandan Nass — the group has gained recognition over the years. George Mason’s Office of Alumni Affairs asks the FSC what its homecoming plans are six months in advance, the group says.

Their regular seats behind the basket across from the student section at the Patriot Center are reserved in their names.

To deal with undergraduates and other George Mason faithful who became fans of the FSC, they developed a rule that new members must clear a one-year probationary period and receive unanimous approval to join their ranks.

“Basically you just have to keep coming to our events,” said Chris Preston, 31, a sales manager and 1996 graduate.

As for the quality of basketball through the years, the FSC has endured some frustrating seasons.

“We’ve seen some bad basketball,” Mr. Tabibi said.

For this group of Patriots faithful, there was no question they would make the trek to Indianapolis.

But as excited as they are, the FSC reiterates: Whether the team wins or loses, they’re just along for the ride.

“The bottom line is, whatever happens on Saturday, the benefit of what this is going to do for the school, for the community, for the basketball program — you can’t measure it,” added Mr. Nass, 33, a 1996 graduate who works at a law firm.

When asked how long they can see themselves doing this, the group collectively responds without hesitation: “forever.” They say someday they want to establish a scholarship and have a hamburger named after them at Brion’s.

“I think one of the best things about this group is we continue to have school spirit,” Mr. Tabibi said. “The team is basically what we all grasp onto. It kind of brought us together — it’s something you can’t buy.”

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