Jennifer Owsiany sees no reason why the men’s basketball atmosphere at Penn State University shouldn’t be the same as the football atmosphere.
She’s doing everything she can to create that balance, and her work has gotten her into the finals of a national ESPN contest.
Owsiany, a 2002 Barron Collier graduate and current Penn State student, is a finalist in ESPN.com’s Miss Bracket 2006 competition, which can be found on the Web site’s Page 2. That competition, along with Mr. Bracket 2006, is a quest to find the most rabid college basketball fan in America.
Owsiany currently is second in the final poll. Her competitors include two Duke students, a North Carolina student who is a Gonzaga fan, and a University of Connecticut student, making her the only finalist whose school was not invited to the Big Dance.
This love of all things navy and white started at childhood, she said.
“My dad graduated from Penn State University,” Owsiany said. “And, growing up, I was a big Penn State fan. I came to visit my junior year of high school and just fell in love with the campus and the tradition here.”
She just couldn’t understand why some of the fervor reserved for the football team didn’t trickle down to the basketball team. Owsiany became the president of the Nittwits, a Penn State pep club, and upped membership 75 percent to nearly 500 strong.
“We have great players and a young team,” Owsiany said. “They just need more support. I don’t know why we can’t have more of an atmosphere like there is in football. We need to bring that atmosphere to Bryce Jordan Center to help the guys.”
It hasn’t exactly been easy. When she camped out for tickets, much like the football team’s “Paternoville,” local police sent her and her friends away. After the Nittany Lions beat Illinois, she drove around campus with a bullhorn imploring students to go to the next home game. The local police quieted her again, and admitted the double standard, but Owsiany is resolute. And she’s spurred on by the support she’s gotten from the Penn State players.
“It was cold the first time we camped out and a few of the guys brought us hot chocolate,” she said. “We’ll e-mail them and they’ll hit us back, thanking us for our support.”
In the first round of the Miss Bracket 2006 competition, Owsiany had to send a photo and an essay. She was first overall after that round. For the finals, she sent in a two-minute video. In that video, Owsiany — dressed in a navy and white hula skirt, face paint and an afro wig — sang the school fight song at different sites around campus.
She’s not exactly Mariah Carey, but Owsiany said it’s the attempt that means the most.
“I’m not on American Idol, that’s for sure,” she said. “At first I was a little nervous, but it’s all about fandom and being crazy. The singing’s not going to count, just the effort being put into it.”