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Fans savor the spotlight
Rams' run to Final Four brings VCU fans out of the shadows

 VCU players jump around in a huddle during a practice yesterday.
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Date published: 4/2/2011

By ADAM HIMMELSBACH

Virginia Commonwealth University sports fans traditionally do their cheering in the shadows in the Fredericksburg area.

Without a football program, and with their basketball team playing in a mid-major conference, the Rams occasionally drum up interest with an NCAA tournament win.

Of course, that excitement usually proves fleeting, and Rams fans cede the in-state spotlight to the spring football practices of Virginia Tech and Virginia.

But the past few weeks have been different. Success has been sustained, and everyone has noticed.

And as Virginia Commonwealth has crafted its magical Final Four run, its fans here have gradually emerged, loud and proud, happy to be the team the state--and the nation--are talking about.

VCU is the second-largest public university in Virginia, with more than 36,000 students, and the Fredericksburg area is stocked with alumni.

Stewart Heubi, a 1970 VCU graduate and James Monroe High School alumnus who now lives in Spotsylvania County, always had trouble finding Rams games on televisions at sports bars. Now he's hearing about area restaurants holding Final Four watching parties.

Jim Smith, a Spotsylvania resident who graduated from VCU in 1972, was in Disney World last week with his family, and countless passers-by commented on his 10-year-old grandson's VCU T-shirt.

"Wherever we go now with any VCU stuff on, people recognize the school," Smith said. "That didn't always happen in the past."

Both Heubi and Smith have season tickets for the Rams basketball games, so they clearly did not ride a bandwagon to the Siegel Center in Richmond.

But longtime VCU fans here are happy to welcome those who previously operated more anonymously.

Heubi traveled to San Antonio last week and watched the 11th-seeded Rams defeat No. 10 Florida State and top-seeded Kansas to win the Midwest Region.

After VCU stunned the Jayhawks, Heubi stood from his second-row seat in the Alamodome and shook hands with several players and coaches.

"That whole ballgame was like a dream," he said. "When we had an 18-point lead, I had to pinch myself."

Heubi purchased tickets to the Final Four and was scheduled to fly to Houston yesterday to watch today's games with two of his former teammates from the VCU crew team.


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