Fans thrill at Shockers in New York

03/31/2011 12:00 AM

08/05/2014 2:15 PM

Elementary physical education teacher Bob Jackson is always looking for reasons and ways to promote loyalty to Wichita State University athletics with his students.

Today should be easy.

He will provide temporary tattoos of WuShock to all 377 students at Earhart Environmental Magnet School.

In case you missed it, WSU's basketball team plays Alabama at 6 tonight in the championship game of the National Invitation Tournament at New York's Madison Square Garden.

"I'm hysterical about this," said Jackson, who received two degrees from WSU. "I've been a Shocker fan forever."

Now he's trying to help Earhart students join the Shocker fan frenzy that has settled over the area.

NIT T-shirts have become a particularly hot item at stores. There will be watch parties — large and small — around town tonight.

Jackson came up with the tattoo idea after he received one when he went to Fox and Hound to watch the Shockers defeat Washington State in Tuesday's NIT semifinals.

"I asked if I could have some more to give to my students," Jackson said. "They gave me enough for all of them."

In his 42 years of teaching, including 15 at Earhart, he has long tried to encourage students to catch the Shocker spirit. For the past seven years, he has given out team posters, baseball cards and other WSU-related items to students wearing Shocker clothes on game days.

"You used to never see Shocker shirts at school," Jackson said. "You'd just see KU and K-State stuff. But over the last few years now, I give out 25 or 30 prizes every game day."

Winning more does change things.

The Fox and Hound, near 13th and Webb Road, is the host of the official watch party for Shocker fans. It was packed for Tuesday's semifinal, and managing partner Don Grimes is bringing in extra chairs and tables for tonight's game.

"We'll still be standing room only," Grimes said.

John Blazek won't be at Fox and Hound or near any other large watch parties tonight, but you would be hard-pressed to find a bigger WSU fan.

A former college basketball referee, he will hang out tonight with a couple of his ref buddies at home to watch the game.

"Too many people know what I do," said Blazek, who is now a supervisor of basketball officials for several leagues. "If I go to a watch party, I get questioned about every call."

If you want to know how loyal Blazek is to the Shockers, he once received a technical foul while serving as WuShock during the 1970s. Before a WSU home game with Louisville, he dragged out a stuffed red cardinal and stomped on it while the Cardinal players were being introduced.

His allegiance to the Shockers hasn't waned over the years.

"I call this the redemption game," Blazek said. "I thought Wichita State well deserved an NCAA (Tournament) bid. This is due just that they are on the big stage."

Tad Snarenberger, co-owner of Sports Time Fan Shop and manager of the east-side store, knows exactly what a grip WSU basketball has on the community.

Sales of Shocker items have been very brisk for the past week. NIT T-shirts that arrived at both of the company's stores on Monday were gone by Tuesday, he said.

"Shocker fans are giddy over this," Snarenberger said. "This town is going to be black and gold on Friday, if they win (tonight)."

A collection of WSU student groups has invited high school and college students planning to attend its free After Dark concert tonight at Koch Arena to come early and watch the game at the arena, said Joe Woodward, one of the organizers. The game starts at 6 p.m., and the concert starts at 8 p.m.

As for Earhart's Jackson, today's giveaway of temporary tattoos and the Shocker run to the NIT title game couldn't have come at a better time.

Jackson, 65, is retiring after this school year.

"This is great," he said. "We can both go out with a bang."

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