'GameDay' gets Western Michigan fired up on cold day (and night)

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Recent WMU grad Austin Berkobien was ready to "Row the Boat" on Saturday.

Kalamazoo – It snowed on Western Michigan’s parade Saturday morning as ESPN’s “College GameDay” was welcomed by thousands of fans thrilled to be a part of the event.

In fact, dozens of fans camped overnight to make sure they had a great view of the “GameDay” crew made up of Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, David Pollack, Samantha Ponder and former Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard.

Taylor Gunn of Rochester Hills was among the first to arrive on the scene, setting up camp at 8 p.m. Friday, joining her boyfriend, Mitch Wilfer of Macomb, and their friends James Calkins of Grand Haven and Kristyn Lynch of Lansing.

“I was voted most spirited my senior year (at Stoney Creek High) so this is my thing,” said Gunn, a junior at WMU who is majoring in public relations with a minor in event management.

Gunn was holding her sign Saturday morning, looking awake and somehow thawed out while listening to WMU coach P.J. Fleck fire up the crowd during the show.

How did Gunn and her group fare in the cold weather overnight?

Taylor Gunn of Rochester Hills said she “mostly survived on hand warmers” overnight.

“I mostly survived on hand warmers and knowing what was ahead,” Gunn said. “It’s too big of a deal for ESPN to be at a MAC school, especially my MAC school. There’s nothing better.

“Honestly, it was not bad at first. There was on-and-off rain, but then escalated really quickly, got really windy, and from there freezing rain and the snow started at 5 a.m.”

Calkins is a junior, majoring in accounting.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Calkins, who said he was among the second group to arrive on the scene Friday night. “It’s ridiculous how good the Broncos are, especially compared to where they were a few years ago and how Fleck has changed the environment of Western altogether.”

Lynch couldn’t wait to watch “GameDay.”

“I’ve been planning this all week,” said Lynch, a senior who is majoring in family and child development. “This is awesome. Everyone is so pumped up.”

Mitch Wilfer (back), James Calkins (front), Kristyn Lynch (left) and Taylor Gunn (right) began their “GameDay” vigil at 8 p.m. on Friday.

A law enforcement representative estimated the crowd at 2,500 as “GameDay” was in progress at 10:30 a.m. with dozens of people still making their way up to the site located near Sangren Hall on campus, less than a mile from Waldo Stadium.

The atmosphere was loud and crazy with one fan, Austin Berkobien of Spring Lake and a recent WMU grad, dressed with a Bronco head while inside an inflated boat with an oar, an nod to Fleck’s “Row the Boat” mantra.

Greg Bruner of Mattawan (center) took in the “GameDay” festivities with his 9-year-old son Ryley.

“This is great, couldn’t be any more excited about having ‘GameDay’ at Western; it’s a long time coming,” said Berkobien. “P.J. Fleck has been killing it, the boys have been killing it, just excited to see Western Michigan undefeated right now. It’s awesome. I just graduated in the spring and had to come back the second I heard ‘GameDay’ was going to be here.

Greg Bruner of Mattawan, who graduated from WMU in 2000 and works in construction, made the trip with his 9-year-old son Ryley.

“I saw Lee (Corso) and David (Pollack) and Lee fist-bumped me,” Ryley said. “I’m having a lot of fun, glad my dad took me.”

ESPN public relations representative Keri Potts was happy with the turnout.

“For a first-time site it’s fantastic and the snow is so college football, especially this time of year,” Potts said. “Our guys love it. They love being here. We love this. We may be cold, but we’re happy.”