Inside the lives of diehard sports fans

Zoe Sawdon, Feature Editor

Senior Emma Scharfenberg was sitting back and enjoying a University of Michigan volleyball game with her family when all of a sudden, an unusually tall man entered her periphery. As he strolled past, Scharfenberg caught a glimpse of his face and realized that he was none other than Isaiah Livers, a forward on the Michigan men’s basketball team. Scharfenberg smacked her sister’s arm in excitement, but was able to control her emotions long enough for a quick photo with Livers. A diehard Michigan basketball fan, things couldn’t seem to get much better for Scharfenberg – until she spotted the entire team and took a picture with point guard Zavier Simpson at another volleyball game a year later.

Scharfenberg first became captivated by Wolverine basketball after watching the Michigan vs. Michigan State game during her sophomore year.

“Michigan won that one, and from then on I was just like, ‘I like Michigan basketball. I’m gonna follow it,’” Scharfenberg said. “Then the obsession just kind of went from there and spiraled.”

Spiral it did, as Scharfenberg began devoting increasingly more time to keeping up with her favorite team, both during and off season, with the NCAA Division 1 tournament, or March Madness, being an especially demanding time.

“I used to have a fan page, and I have since not posted on that,” Scharfenberg said. “But I google college basketball news so often that it comes up, and it’s basically bookmarked on my safari on my phone. I definitely watch [March Madness games] constantly during school, and I’ve gone to get water during a tennis practice to check the scores.”

Scharfenberg’s passion for sports is not limited to college basketball, however; she also enjoys following professional tennis, being a tennis player herself. According to Scharfenberg, the ESPN app is key in helping her track her favorite players, each of whom she enjoys watching for a different reason.

“[I like] Rafael Nadal because his passion is just unmatched, and he is a beast,” Scharfenberg said. “Probably another one is Dominic Thiem. I have no reason why I like him so much, I just think . . . his grunt is so funny. I also like Felix Auger Aliassime because he’s young and I just know that he’s gonna go far, so I just like watching him to see how his career progresses.”

Like college basketball, keeping up with tennis tournaments is a significant time commitment for Scharfenberg, as she displayed during the Australian Open this winter. Since Australia is in a different time zone, Scharfenberg would have to wake up at 2 or 3 a.m. to watch live coverage of matches being played at 7 a.m. in Australia.

“I woke up at 3 in the morning for about four days in a row just to watch tennis, and I was very excited, but I couldn’t show my emotions or yell at the TV because my family was all sleeping and I couldn’t wake them up,” Scharfenberg said.

RHS math teacher Mr. Byrd shares a similar enthusiasm for sports, but his is directed toward professional football. He recalls watching the NFL at age 6 or 7 and has been a fan ever since, and he is well-known around the school as an avid Detroit Lions supporter.

“I am pretty active on Lions Twitter, and I read as much football content as I am able to, including all of the Lions writers from the Free Press, Detroit News, and SBNation, among a lot of others,” Mr. Byrd said.

Social media is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Mr. Byrd’s passion for Lions football; he tries to travel to at least one away game each year, and his goal is to eventually see the Lions on the road against every team in the NFL.

“This year, I was at the Lions vs. Broncos game in Denver, and my friends and I were shown in the crowd on the national broadcast after Jamal Agnew’s punt return touchdown,” Mr. Byrd said. “I saw myself on TV all day.”

Mr. Byrd was even planning to attend the NFL draft in Las Vegas this year, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event was held virtually instead. This was a disappointment according to Mr. Byrd, but he still managed to enjoy the draft from home.

“I was able to have a zoom meeting with my brother and a friend of ours from high school to watch the first round in real time, and that was super fun,” Mr. Byrd said. “I was able to talk to my friends who I was supposed to attend the draft with, which was also cool.”

The coronavirus has robbed sports fans everywhere of their favorite entertainment, so some creativity has been required to make up for the lack of live sports at this time. Mr. Byrd, for example, has resorted to watching old Lions games and sports documentaries as well as keeping in touch with fellow fans. Scharfenberg has taken similar actions.

“I’ve been watching a lot of highlights and interviews with my favorite players,” Scharfenberg said. “It’s not the same, but it’s making me appreciate the games even more for when everything goes back to normal.”

Cancellations and the uncertainty of upcoming collegiate and professional sports seasons has not been enough to squelch the passion of fans like Scharfenberg and Mr. Byrd. For them, the root of their interest goes beyond specific players and is instead a love for the game itself.

“There are some amazing athletes who play pro football, and it takes all kinds of athletes,” said Mr. Byrd. “Linemen are different types of athletes than cornerbacks, who are different than skilled positions like wide receiver and running back, who are different than kickers, [and so on].”

According to Scharfenberg, what she enjoys most about watching any sport is the emotional that the athletes pour into what they do.

“[I like] watching their emotions when they hit a three-pointer or when there’s a foul and it’s a good foul, and the team just starts jumping up on the sidelines and hugging each other,” Scharfenberg said. “I think just their passion for the sport is crazy, and their determination because they’ll just never give up. They will go on and on and on until that last point is over.”