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MSU alums reunite for Rose Bowl, create Spartan Nation in California

January 2, 2014
	<p><span class="caps">MSU</span> alumni John Cannon, left, and Jon Legg tailgate before the 100th Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. Julia Nagy/The State News</p>

MSU alumni John Cannon, left, and Jon Legg tailgate before the 100th Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. Julia Nagy/The State News

Photo by Julia Nagy | The State News

PASADENA, Calif. – Once they finished singing the MSU fight song, each member of a four-person group of Spartan alumni promptly shotgunned beers with a coordination that implied it wasn’t their first time performing the ritual.

The four friends — three of them former Hubbard Hall roommates, one a buddy from across the hall — have maintained a tight bond since meeting as students in 1995 through MSU athletics. Once the Spartan football program earned its first Rose Bowl bid since 1988, the crew sprang into action to orchestrate another reunion, this time the most momentous to date.

“We were always like, ‘We are going (to the Rose Bowl if MSU goes), no matter what we have to do, we’re all coming out,‘” said Adam Szcznesny, an alumnus currently living in New York.

Szcznesny’s friendship with his college friends has endured well beyond their time together in East Lansing primarily because of Spartan sports teams, and it’s a passion being passed down to the younger generation.

They’ve been in one another’s weddings, their kids know each other and they look forward to raising them as diehard Spartans.

Coming to Pasadena, Calif., and reveling in college football’s most scenic venues was an opportunity the buddies were never afforded while they were students. It was everyone’s first Rose Bowl except Szcznesny, who came in 1988 as a kid, but they’re optimistic it won’t be the last time they meet on the West Coast to see the Spartans play.

“When I went to my first Final Four in 1999, I remember thinking I may never get here again, to a Final Four, and I’ve been to six,” said Ryan Sills, now a resident of Huntington Woods, Mich. “What I don’t want to do is walk in here and think that I may never get back here, because I really think that we’re gonna get back.”

If the term Spartan nation ever was appropriate, it would have been for the setting in Pasadena. Fans, students and alumni pulled out all stops for the 100th rendition of the sport’s most iconic game. MSU fans accounted for approximately 50-60,000 of the 95,000-plus Rose Bowl attendees.

The Spartan logo and familiar shade of green made family out of thousands.

“It’s a football game, but it’s bigger than that, obviously, it’s bigger than that. It’s crazy,” Szcznesny said.

The enduring companionship of 1965 alumnae Jill Moon, Gail Hill and Roslyn Covey is what brought them to Southern California. Since they met each other as roommates in 1961, the first year Case Hall opened, the ladies have made sure to meet up as a group every few years. If a monumental Spartan event can coincide with it, all the better.

They remembered MSU’s campus from a different era, when they trudged through mud to move into the dorm because there were no sidewalks, or how it was a big deal that both men and women lived in the dorm together.

Wednesday was Hill’s third Rose Bowl, Moon’s second and Covey’s first.

“The setting of where the Rose Bowl is with the mountains behind it is glorious,” Hill said. ”(MSU fans) have kind of a reputation for not traveling and I said squash that (idea). We travel, we support.”

For Sherrie Cole-Whitaker, a different kind of connection led her and her husband to Pasadena from Toledo, Ohio.

Cole-Whitaker, a specialized reading teacher, worked closely with redshirt freshman defensive back Mark Meyers in high school when he found out he was dyslexic. From teaching Meyers, the two became tight and have continued their relationship since he became a Spartan, including the exchange of motivational text messages back and forth when one of them needs encouragement.

Before MSU played Ohio State in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship, Cole-Whitaker half-jokingly said she would be at the Rose Bowl if the Spartans won.

Late in the night of the Spartans’ upset win, she received a phone call.

“He’s on the phone with me (and says), ‘I got two tickets, are you coming?’” Cole-Whitaker recalled. “I said ‘You know it’s in California?’ He said ‘Yeah, do you? You told me you’d come.’ I said ‘OK, we’ll come.’”

Before knowing Meyers, she wasn’t a passionate MSU supporter in any way. Cole-Whitaker became one and was taken back by the amount of followers made the trip to the Rose Bowl.

“Our flight out was 80 percent Spartan fans and it was literally a pep assembly on the way out,” she said. “People were cheering ‘Go Green, go white’ from one end of the plane to the other.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been changed to accurately reflect the name of this year’s Rose Bowl. It is the 100th Rose Bowl, not the 100th anniversary of the Rose Bowl.

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