March 20, 2014 in City

Teams, fans settle in for NCAA games at Spokane Arena

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine signs autographs for fans Wednesday afternoon after the Spartans wrapped up their NCAA tournament practice session at the Spokane Arena. Michigan State (26-8) is scheduled to play Delaware (25-9) today at 1:40 p.m.
(Full-size photo)

A little March madness paid off Wednesday for a trio of brothers from Medical Lake who also happen to be die-hard Oklahoma Sooners fans.

Kole, Kasen and Kade Turner – ages 10, 11 and 14 – whooped and hollered with signs held high as “Boomer Sooner” played at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on Wednesday. Oklahoma players ran onto the floor to an even bigger cheer from the boys.

The young fans caught the eyes of Ronn and Linda Lytle, visiting from Norman, Okla., who bought the brothers tickets to this afternoon’s matchup with North Dakota State, part of a four-game slate as Spokane hosts the NCAA tournament opening rounds for the fourth time in 11 years.

“They were so enthusiastic,” said Linda Lytle, clad in a red jacket and scarf with the OU logo. Kasen Turner beamed beneath his wagon-themed Sooner hat, sent from a neighbor in their hometown of Midwest City, Okla., as he pondered watching his favorite team live.

Thousands will file into the Arena over the next few days, hoping for a quintessential March moment like the buzzer-beating 3 that lifted the Michigan State Spartans over Maryland in the Arena in 2010 en route to a Final Four appearance. Among those present today will be Newman Lake resident Ron Harris, who graduated from Michigan State in the late 1960s.

“The place just erupted,” said Harris on Wednesday, remembering the Maryland thriller that took place as he watched the Spartans’ shootaround. “I’ve never heard it that loud before.”

When the Spartans tip against the Delaware Blue Hens this afternoon, Harris will be sitting in the same section of the Arena – 218 – as he did that afternoon four years ago. He said he bought his ticket, one of several released Wednesday, hoping to be near what promises to be a raucous Michigan State contingent.

But Harris wouldn’t rule out superstition as a possible motivator.

“I’d say it’s a little of both,” he said with a chuckle.

As fans in Spokane and elsewhere huddle around television sets and office computers, wasting hours of work time and tossing estimated billions of dollars into bracket pools, fans of eight teams will grab an Inland Northwest front-row seat to the madness that annually grips the country.

Coeur d’Alene residents Jason and Alicia Troye sat with their daughters, Parker and Quinn, taking in the practice Wednesday. Quinn wore a classic Michigan State cheerleader uniform with matching pompom, her sister clad in a green hue that dominated among fans on hand.

“We’re total pushers,” Alicia Troye said of their daughters’ fandom.

The Troyes both graduated from Michigan State before moving to Idaho in 2001, they said.

That the Spartans will be well-represented seems a given, with an alumni group in town and the proximity of former head coach Jud Heathcote, who had coached at West Valley High School before beginning his college coaching career. Spokane will also play host to two teams who traveled the farthest for their round-of-64 NCAA games: Delaware and the Harvard Crimson, both of whom traveled more than 2,100 miles for today’s matchups.

The Lytles traveled just 1,776 miles from Norman to Spokane to see their favorite team. That’s a stone’s throw for Ronn Lytle, who said he fell in love with the Sooners when his dad took him to his first football game in 1950.

“I’ve been from Anchorage, Alaska, to Miami, Florida,” said Lytle, clad in an Oklahoma lettermen’s jacket. “I’ve been from Tucson, Arizona, to New York City” to see the Sooners play, he added.

“My husband’s a fanatic,” said Linda Lytle. “I’m a fan.”

Oklahoma will face off against the North Dakota State Bison in a late afternoon contest. The game will pair the 5-seed against the 12-seed in the West Region, a classic scenario for the upsets that make the tournament irresistible for many.

Taking in the Bison practice Wednesday, Airway Heights resident and North Dakota State alumnus Carston Mortenson said he thinks his squad could be the talker today.

“I think we can be that team,” Mortenson said, wearing the yellow and green of his alma mater.

But the Turner boys, with Oklahoma signs at the ready, aren’t convinced.

“We’re gonna win,” Kole Turner said.

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