From the Staff

Column: College football games can take us home, on country roads

snagem@newsobserver.comSeptember 5, 2013 


When West Virginia University destroyed Clemson 70-33 in the 2012 Orange Bowl, local Mountaineer fans celebrated the best way we know how – we drank beer and sang “Take Me Home, Country Roads” off key.

We would have done just about anything to be back in Morgantown, where couches burn and football pride runs deep.

Instead, more than 100 Mountaineers were at Sammy’s Tap & Grill in Raleigh, a home away from home for West Virginia fans during football season.

Colleges have alumni networks throughout the nation and beyond. They raise money for scholarships, do service projects and provide a friendly place for people with shared experiences to reminisce.

In the Triangle, where just about everybody is from somewhere else, alumni groups are popular. They can usually be found at local bars, yelling at big-screen televisions and talking smack about rival schools.

Triangle Mountaineers

More than 1,300 West Virginia grads live in the Triangle, according to university figures.

Like other people, many of us were lured to the area by job opportunities. (Although, for the record, West Virginia’s unemployment rate was 6.2 percent in July, compared to North Carolina’s rate of 8.9 percent.)

“West Virginians in general are a tight group,” said Chuck Yu, president of the local Mountaineer alumni group.

And we’re not the only ones. Those Penn State fans sound like they have a good time.

“I’m sorry,” Ben Pitzer, president of the local Penn State alumni, told me when he found out I’m a West Virginia grad.

Once we got past our differing philosophies on football and life, I found out that Pitzer’s story is pretty common. He moved to the Triangle in 2000 and now works in the IT industry.

Ohio State has a big local group, too. Chris West graduated with a degree in marketing and moved to the Triangle three years ago. Now he’s president of the local Buckeye alumni group, which meets at The Brickhouse on Hillsborough Street.

“We’re really only known for one thing, and that’s football,” said West. “If you went to Ohio State, it’s in your blood, your passion. ... I think what people miss more than anything is the atmosphere of tailgating. I think you get a little taste of that.”

I admit that I didn’t do much tailgating in college. I was too young and foolish to appreciate all the wonderful things about West Virginia when I actually lived there.

What I miss

But now I miss the sight of Mountaineer Field, the electricity of game day.

I miss the rolling hills and meandering river in the Ohio Valley, where I grew up.

I miss pepperoni rolls.

But for about 12 Saturdays a year, I get to feel a little closer to home when I watch Mountaineer games at Sammy’s.

We celebrate together and mourn together. My heart broke when our men’s basketball team lost to – dare I say it? – Duke, in the 2010 NCAA Final Four.

When news broke about the football scandal at Penn State, the school’s local alumni group got together and collected money for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, Pitzer said.

It’s all about community, and finding a little piece of home.

And after the game, we all go back to reality, with our jobs and our new North Carolina lives. And we’re quite happy about it.

If only I could find pepperoni rolls down here, it would be almost perfect.

Let’s go Mountaineers.

Sarah Nagem is editor of The News & Observer’s Cary News and Southwest Wake News.

Nagem: 919-460-2605; Twitter: @BySarahNagem

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