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College fan spirit clubs root on football teams in local pubs


Earliest arrivals of the local U-M Spirit Club watch the Wolverines beat Wisconsin Saturday, in Green Man Brewery in Asheville. Coordinator Leah Hoffman is at center. To the right, Andy Brouwer wears an anti-Ohio (State) shirt. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas- Victors were hailed, Rocky Top was ascended, a ranked foe could not “Hold that (Clemson) Tiger,” and UNC’s 22nd ram mascot Rameses also had plenty to celebrate in college football on Saturday.

Many area residents are rooting on their favorite college football teams as part of alumni clubs and smaller spirit groups in local establishments — boosting those businesses, camaraderie and school spirit.

For instance, some 30 Maize ‘n Blue fans of the University of Michigan Alumni Spirit Club watched their fourth-ranked Wolverines featuring three-way star Jabrill Peppers beat then eighth-ranked Wisconsin 14-7 in an early showdown.

These transplants also cheered for UNC Tar Heels (4-1) that they saw on game breaks. The Heels won at 12th-ranked Florida State, 37-35 on a 54-yard field goal.

They watched in the Green Man Brewery’s new facility in Downtown Asheville, with privacy in the third-floor conference room. They swung focus from the large-screen television to each other, to chat about their good ‘ole days and prospects of the Wolverines revived by charismatic head coach Jim Harbaugh who was their star quarterback 30 years ago.


Rick and Leah Hoffman are with their daughter, Flora. Behind, on the big screen, U-M receiver Amara Darboh runs after a catch. He would snare the winning TD pass. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

The U-M Spirit Club started last year, is trying various spots in Asheville and has gone most often to Catawba Brewing at 32 Banks Ave. That is the preferred site for local fans of intra-state rival Michigan State, a final four team in football last year. Thus the two groups might collide in Catawba Oct. 29, when their teams battle.

The Ohio State game is away, on Nov. 26. Last year, OSU won in a top-four showdown. The U-M club went to Hickory Tavern in Biltmore Park. It is home base for arch-rival OSU fans, who filled it — casting Wolverine faithful to the chilly patio.

But an ensuing highlight, in Twisted Laurel, was seeing Michigan thrash Florida Gators in the latest Citrus Bowl. The Blue Ridge Gator Club is among area ones for SEC and ACC powers. It meets in Juicy Lucy’s Burger Bar and Grill. Asheville also has a Seminole Club, for arch-rival Florida State.

The Michigan group draws from over 400 alumni living within 50 miles of Asheville, including this writer. U-M has one of the largest networks, with more than 540,000 living alumni.

In watching games in public venues “we pick up a few random fans everywhere we go, even if they aren’t alumni,” said founder-coordinator Leah Richards Hoffman (U-M Class of 2003).

Michigan has a national following for its success and sensory distinctions. U-M has won more (935) football games than any college in history, starting with its point-a-minute squads in the 1900s, and has the best winning mark (.739).

UT Vols fans whoop it up, after their team won on a “Hail Mary” TD pass. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Very recognizable are that snazzy winged helmet, vibrant maize and blue jersey (now Brand Jordan, with a logo depicting Michael Jordan striding to dunk), peppy “(Hail to) The Victors,” and jazzy Michigan Rag (ending with “Let’s Go Blue!” also played by many high school bands.

Mammoth Michigan Stadium is imposing with sight and sound echoing in a bowl, with capacity of 107,600 fans. “The Big House” housed as many as 115,109 (vs. Notre Dame in 2013), averaged a record 112,252 in ‘12, and drew 84,401 in its first year (1927, vs. Ohio State).

Leah and husband Derek Hoffman bring to the club viewings their daughter Flora, who turns age three in two months. The Hoffmans were in a U-M alumni group in Chicago. Here, they started first a family then spirit club. They are among 30-something group core members.

Andy Brouwer, 35, and Wesley Miller, 36, are energetic regulars as non-alum Michigan natives and lifetime fans. Brouwer was transferred here by Borg Warner, and does turbo sales. He is fiercely into poetic “Oh How I Hate O-hi-o State” mode, wearing an anti-OSU shirt each Saturday.

Emily Fieweger (U-M ’09) and Tye Dumas (wearing a Buckeye shirt) drove over an hour to Green Man from Marion, to see her U-M prevail. First, they watched his Ohio State (OSU) easily win.

Various generations share memories of their eras. Bob and Pat Catterfield met at U-M’s main campus in Ann Arbor, Mich. They went to home games in 1969. The heralded Bo Schembechler era launched then, with a huge 24-12 upset of OSU. She graduated a month later. They would walk amidst the band for three blocks to the stadium.

Those were also chaotic times. Bob recalled fellow engineering students threw out liberal arts protestors who tried to prevent a Dow Chemical job fair; Dow made Agent Orange sprayed in the Vietnam War.

Dan Ricker (Class of ’83) and his wife Joanne watched with the U-M group. In Dan’s era, coeds were still passed up (willingly) row to row to the stadium’s top. A prank was just as the young lady reached the last row, she was hidden out of sight as a coed-looking mannequin stand-in was tossed over the edge.

On Saturday, the eye-catching toss was instead Wilton Speight’s arcing pass. It reached Amara Darboh in full stride, for a 46-yard score to break a deadlock with 8:28 remaining. U-M cornerback Jourdan Lewis leaped back and snared an interception one-handed, to preserve victory number 935.

Michigan fans roared and “high-fived” to such plays. They sang about their “victors valiant,” “conquering heroes” earning “glory and fame,” the “leaders and the best” and “champions of the (Mid)West.”

The top 15 among D-1 FBS programs as of this week are: Michigan (935), Notre Dame (895), Texas (888), Nebraska (885), Ohio State (879), Alabama (869), Oklahoma (863), Penn State (859), Tennessee (825), Southern Cal (815), Georgia (790), LSU (773), Auburn (744), West Virginia (731) and VirginiaTech (721). The Associated Press top five (all unbeaten) this week are Alabama, then Ohio State, Clemson (taking Louisville’s spot, after beating the Cards), Michigan and Washington.

Ninth-ranked Tennessee has had a strong WNC following for at least two decades, since led by WNC stars Heath Shuler and Leonard Little. Dozens of Volunteer orange-clad fans were in Green Man’s tap room, next to U-M’s room at the same time.

Vol fans looked shocked as Georgia (which led 17-0) got a 47-yard TD pass with merely 19 ticks left. In a manic twist of fate, the visiting Vols (5-0) won 34-31 on the finale — a 43-yard “Hail Mary” by Joshua Dobbs to Jauan Jennings. The place erupted. Courtney Stapp, 29, drove from UT epicenter Knoxville, Tenn. with her father and a friend to watch the game in less-crowded Asheville then see the town.

The encore Saturday night was as nearby Clemson outscored Louisville 42-36. The Tigers reached the title game last season. There is a WNC Clemson Alumni Club, and WNC Gamecock Club for its USC rivals.

For more on the U-M Alumni Spirit Club, email to Tar Heel alums can email the alumni club coordinator at

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