NCAA Tournament

Jeneé Osterheldt | Big pride for Norfolk State, my alma mater


The Other Spartans. That’s how one of my friends referred to my alma mater’s basketball team: Norfolk State Spartans.

I get it. I live in the Midwest. It makes sense that Michigan State’s Spartans are better known than the historically black college I attended in my home state of Virginia. In Kansas City, it’s all about two big schools — Kansas and Missouri — with two of the best college basketball teams in the nation.

And my school? Well, people around here have never heard of it. Until now.

In one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Division I Tournament history, Norfolk State danced all over those Missouri Tigers Friday. It was only the fifth time since 1985 that a 15th seed had defeated a second-seeded team. It was beautiful.

For me, this is a big deal. Winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament a week ago was a victory. It marked the first time in school history that Norfolk State had earned a spot in the NCAA Division I Tournament.

And when they drew Mizzou the first dance? That made my day.

In the decade since I’ve lived here, I’ve dealt with the blank stares and scoffing when I say “Norfolk State.” I often have to reference that old TV show, “A Different World,” or mention its proximity to Old Dominion University when asked about my college.

Small schools don’t get a lot of love. If you’re a Tiger or Jayhawk, you can readily walk into a Foot Locker, Dick’s Sporting Goods or even Victoria’s Secret and buy everything from shirts to socks to show off your school spirit. Me? I have to go online to find collegiate gear. Even then, it’s best to order straight from the campus bookstore.

That’s all right. You may have to go to a megacampus for notoriety, but you can have heart and fight anywhere.

As I sat on my couch, wearing the same Norfolk State T-shirt I wore as a senior in 2001, I was overwhelmed with pride when my team won. After the big game, when game star Kyle O’Quinn told sportscaster Craig Sager he didn’t know where he would be without Norfolk State, he didn’t just speak for himself. He spoke for me too.

On that campus, I found myself and realized my dreams. I got an education, academically and in life. At that school, I forged the path to become the woman I am today. That’s why it hurts when people dismiss my alma mater.

All week long, people wished me luck. Some sincerely and some with pity and sarcasm in their voices. I understood their doubt. I mean, here, we’re The Other Spartans.

But that doesn’t make us any less educated, talented or capable of taming those tigers we face in life.

So for all the years I’ve endured the chants and cheers of Mizzou and KU, I say loudly and proudly: N-S-U! I love it! I love it! I love it!