- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

ON THE ROAD TO INDIANAPOLIS — George Mason’s improbable journey to the NCAA Final Four has become a ride to remember for more than just the basketball team.

“This is by far the best thing I’ve ever done as far as school goes,” said Jacob Jenkins, a junior aboard a school-sponsored bus bound for the final games in Indianapolis. “This is everything I wanted to get out of college.”

Mr. Jenkins was joined yesterday by about 400 classmates on eight buses packed with everything from lucky sweat shirts to “Kryptonite Kids” cowboy hats for the rollicking, 11-hour road trip into the Midwest.

The antics inside the buses were G-rated but generations away from road trips powered by a cappella singalongs and boomboxes.

Laptops and iPods played Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and other songs that prompted rolling dance parties.

The caravan was barely off the Fairfax campus before students on one bus started singing what has become the Patriot’s theme song: Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

To be sure, the Patriots have appeared down to their last prayer more than once this season — including Sunday when they trailed Connecticut by nine points in the second half.

George Mason sophomore Amanda Furr and two friends aboard one bus wore tiaras as a homage to this Cinderella season.

“We’re getting ready to go to the big dance,” said Miss Furr, a psychology major. “We’re going to win the whole thing.”

The team has played in the tournament four times in years past, losing each time in the first round. This year the Patriots defeated Michigan State, defending champion North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut to reach today’s game against Florida.

Dave Lyle, a freshman and part of a shirtless trio that attends games to spell out “G-M-U” on their chests described going to the early-round games this year in Dayton, Ohio as “sick.”

“But going to Indy with seven times as many people is crazy,” he said. “I’ve been hooked. I have to go to all of the games.”

Patrick Nagurny, a sophomore, and girlfriend Kristell Fonseca, a junior, were among the few students who brought schoolbooks on the buses.

“This is something that hasn’t happened before at George Mason,” said Mr. Nagurny, an accounting major. “We didn’t want to let our college careers go by and miss this opportunity.”

Christi Rusteikas, a sophomore graphic-design major, said the road trip is just another way that has brought together students.

“Last year there was no school spirit, and it’s incredible that so many students are traveling across the country,” she said. “We’re all stuck on a bus with random people and we’re going make a lot of new friends.”

The 600-mile trip was also festive for the family of Patriots guard Lamar Butler.

His father, Lamar Sr., loaded luggage into a rented sport utility vehicle Thursday morning while his mother, Pamela, videotaped the event at their home in Fort Washington.

“Get ready for a miracle from Fairfax,” Mr. Butler said.

He and his wife took four other persons, including daughter, Keelay, and son, Joey, who were wedged into their seats amid numerous bags and suitcases.

“We need to make room for the trophies,” Mrs. Butler said.

Before leaving at 4 a.m., the group held hands in a circle and prayed for safety and success this weekend.

“Let’s go,” Mr. Butler said. “We’re on our way to the Final Four, baby.”

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