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Oakland Zoo gets wild at Field House

Staff Writer

Issue date: 1/31/02 Section: Sports
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<div align=right>MATT FRANKLIN<BR>Assistant Photo Editor</div><BR>The Oakland Zoo has become a vocal part of basketball games at the Fitzgerald Field House as the wild crew takes pleasure in heckling opposing teams.
Assistant Photo Editor

The Oakland Zoo has become a vocal part of basketball games at the Fitzgerald Field House as the wild crew takes pleasure in heckling opposing teams.
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When Notre Dame invaded the Fitzgerald Field House Jan. 12, star forward Ryan Humphrey heard chants of �Ashley, Ashley,� his middle name.

Syracuse player DeShaun Williams, previously arrested for drunk driving, was heckled with �D-U-I! D-U-I!�

And West Virginia forward Chris Moss, who spit on an opposing team�s cheerleader, was tortured with jeers from people wearing black plastic bags.

One might think these actions are coming from people who belong in a zoo. And they are. That is, the Oakland Zoo.

Whether initiating �Let�s go Pitt� cheers or isolating and irritating a visiting player, the Oakland Zoo is at every men�s basketball game. Donned in matching gold shirts, the throng of approximately 40 students does whatever they can think of to support the Panthers.

Sitting behind the visiting team�s bench, a growing handful of Panther faithful, wearing anything from blue and gold scarves to Julius Page-styled �JP1� headbands, cheer the team they love.

Sophomores Matt Cohen and Zach Hale founded the Zoo through their enjoyment of college basketball last year.

�We both loved college hoops,� Hale said. �We really didn�t have a student section and we were just sitting around and it hit us. �Why don�t we just roundup some people and have a good time?��

Both admit that they were not always Pitt fans, but they wanted to support their college.

�I came here as a Villanova fan,� Cohen said, �but it was obvious I had to change my allegiance.�

The Zoo�s inception came from Hale�s and Cohen�s disgust of a calm student section.

�Last year�s game against Syracuse was when I got the idea,� Cohen said. �It was quiet as usual, when my friends and I saw we were the only ones cheering. So we decided to get together and work something out.�

After some thought, they settled on the current name. Cohen believes it represents �a bunch of kids in a zoo acting crazy.�

Their first appearance came when the Panthers upset Seton Hall last year. The then small group painted their eyes black in reference to a fight that occurred between Pirate players Eddie Griffin and Ty Shine a few days before the game.

Ever since, the group has grown.

Coming into this season, the Zoo was hoping the Pitt athletic department would sponsor free T-shirts for the students with the Oakland Zoo logo emblazoned on them. But the athletic department refused to embrace the diehard students and gave away Aeropostale �Aero Zone� shirts instead.

�We�re absolutely in favor of our students in support of the Panthers,� Director of Sports Marketing Chris Ferris said. �But as far as us in distinguishing every single faction of students, it�s just impossible for the athletic department.�

�We want to work with our students,� he said. �What they are doing in support of the Panthers is great.�

The Zoo persevered.

�We have not gotten a lot of support from the athletic department,� Hale said. �We would like to have their support, but they have their corporate sponsors. We want it to be for the students, not corporate run.�

�They just didn�t agree with us,� Cohen added. �But at least we are getting along with them now.�

Seemingly on their own, the Zoo has grown and earned the respect from Pitt players and coaches.

�I appreciate their enthusiasm,� Pitt head coach Ben Howland said. �They�re having fun and that�s what college is all about. We�re just glad they�re with us and not against us.�

�We see them on campus,� guard Julius Page said, �and they are always here for us. We love them.�

The Zoo recently received money from the Student Government Board and is planning to hand out more than 450 shirts. They are hoping the shirts will help build the small group of friends into an intimidating fan base.

�It�s not just a group of friends,� Hale responds to the notion. �Heck, I don�t even know everyone�s names now that it is so big. We just want to have our own student section.�

Cohen enjoys all aspects of the Zoo, not just the heckling.

�It�s cool because we meet the visiting team�s players, friends and family,� he said. �When we do research on them, we learn a lot of interesting information. It just feels like we�re part of the game.�

The future of the Zoo is still in the air, though. While �trying so hard to get fans into games and them not responding� frustrates Cohen, his fellow Zoo member is more optimistic.

�We just want to have our own section,� Hale explained. �You would have to have a shirt on to get in. We�re just trying to get people interested in college basketball.�

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posted 1/07/03 @ 6:52 AM EST

I am a diehard Pitt fan. Where can I get Oakland Zoo shirts?

David, producer
Los Angeles







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