BROOKLYN, N.Y. — They called it the Rowdy Bus. Forty-six members of VCU’s basketball fan club, The Rowdy Rams, crammed into a coach bus and trekked up to Brooklyn, N.Y. this past week to watch the men’s basketball team compete in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
It was a seven-hour trip from Richmond, Va., but that didn’t matter because the transportation, lodging and game tickets were free. A trip that would ordinarily cost several hundred dollars was made possible by an alumna’s idea, generous donations and the power of social media.
Tori Valentine, a 2012 VCU graduate, heard rumors that George Washington University was sponsoring a bus to send its students to Brooklyn to help cheer on the Colonials in tournament play. When she discovered her alma mater had no such option, she took initiative.
“Because of the home court advantage we have at VCU, and because we are undefeated at home I felt that we needed to have our students in the stands,” Valentine said.
Valentine did the research, added up the numbers and came to the conclusion it would cost roughly $8,000 to send a bus of students up to New York. She set up an online fund through a website typically used by startups and took to Twitter.
Valentine called it “Book it to Brooklyn.” Within hours after she began the campaign on Wednesday afternoon, the money began piling up.
Baja Bean Company, a restaurant located in the heart of Richmond, was the first to contribute, Valentine said, donating $1,200 to the cause. VCU head coach Shaka Smart and his wife Maya Smart pitched in $1,000 of their own, as did VCU alumnus and former basketball standout Eric Maynor.
Using hashtags and Facebook, Valentine said she reached her goal within 24 hours of establishing the fund. Before it was all said and done, she helped raise more than $14,000 without asking a single person for money.
Mara Derose, a Rowdy Ram member included on the trip, said she was glad Valentine came up with the idea.
“It’s been a fantastic experience,” Derose said. “The fact that she was able to raise so much money in such a short period of time is incredible. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we’re grateful for the opportunity.”
The VCU basketball team was also thankful. A massive contingency of Rams fans invaded the Barclays Center beginning on Thursday and several players mentioned the fan support during postgame press conferences.
Chants of “V-C-U” rang throughout the arena on countless occasions, and a sea of black and gold dominated the stands in a tournament that included 13 different teams.
Jake Salmons, another lucky Rowdy Ram, said Valentine’s effort made a difference on and off the court.
“VCU may have had the biggest crowd regardless of these 46 students,” Salmons said. “But bringing the Rowdy Rams definitely helped raise the noise level considerably. I think it’s great that someone thought of this before it was too late and I think it truly shows the power of social media.”
Valentine’s effort also shows the power of Ramnation, Salmons said, because not every university possesses the school spirit to raise that amount of money in such a short period of time.
Other notable donors included NASCAR drivers Elliot and Hermie Sadler, Richmond International Raceway, Haley Certified Toyota and some of VCU basketball’s assistant coaches.
Excess money will be used to help fund a bus for the NCAA tournament if the Rams play on the East Coast, Valentine said, or could be used for next year’s A-10 tournament.