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Spirit & Sports

He wants you to know: Your Block O days can live on

A new alumni society gives former “Blockies” a chance to connect with one another and their successors, says this proud dad.

A smiling dad wraps an arm around his daughter’s shoulders. They both wear Ohio State sweatshirts and pose before the Buckeye Grove gateway, which spells out that name on the arch above their heads. Sunshine filters through the trees in the background, whose leaves have changed colors for fall.

Michael and Ella Shmarak stop by Buckeye Grove before this year’s Michigan State game. Like her dad, Ella is finding her people in Block O. (Photo by Jodi Miller)

Back in 1987, as an eager, wide-eyed freshman, I came upon a group of students during Orientation and Student Activities Week who were about to change my life forever.

I had spent most of my childhood in (ahem!) That State Up North, but moved to Ohio as a 15-year-old and enrolled at Thomas Worthington High School, just a buckeye’s throw from Ohio State. I wasn’t very social in high school, but I loved sports, especially watching football and basketball.

When I got to college, I made a conscious decision to meet people with backgrounds and experiences different from my own. After all, other freshmen were new as well: There was a level playing field.

As I got to know these students decked out in scarlet and gray everything, I saw they were fans like me — the die-hard, “Hi Mom, send money”-sign-holding, go-crazy-when-our-team-scores fans who make sports such a community endeavor. And the best part? Like me, they loved Ohio State.

So when I bought football season tickets for my first fall on campus, the Block O section of Ohio Stadium did not disappoint. There, in sections 1A and 2A at the closed end of the Horseshoe, I learned that Block O was more than just a bunch of crazy sports fans. It was an actual student organization, the official student cheering section and — lucky for me — the perfect welcoming committee for this first-year student.

I would spend four years in Block O, serving as treasurer my sophomore through senior years. Those football and basketball seasons created indelible memories, and some of the people I met back then would become long-standing friends.

As you may know, Block O was founded in 1938 by then-head cheerleader Clancy A. Isaac Jr., who brought the tradition to Ohio State after seeing something similar at the University of Southern California. A passionate Buckeye if there ever was one, Clancy is hailed for introducing the card stunts that still are a huge part of Block O and credited with starting the “Hey Stadium — O!/O-H-I-O” cheer that gets the entire ’Shoe crowd on its feet.

In my day, “Blockies” wore red and white capes, and our spirited card stunts always seemed to wow Brent Musburger, Keith Jackson and other college football commentators.

Shortly after I graduated, Block O moved to South Stands with the renovation of Ohio Stadium. Luckily, a smart group of students pushed leadership for more fandom and, in 2008, the original Block O section returned to complement the South Stands section.

One of the best things about taking part in an Ohio State tradition like Block O is being able to pass the torch to future Buckeyes — just as the torch was passed to me and other Blockies. I’m proud to see how our successors extended the Block O movement to other sports. Athletes in volleyball, gymnastics, lacrosse, wrestling, hockey — to name just a handful — are beneficiaries of Block O spirit just as the football and basketball players are.

A sea of students in the stands at a football game wear Ohio State jerseys as they laugh and reach out while cheering on their team.

The collective voice of Block O is deafening, whether at Ohio Stadium, Schottenstein Center or one of Ohio State’s many other sports venues. (Photo by Corey Wilson)

Recently, the tradition expanded in my own family. My daughter Ella, who began classes fall semester, settled right in to campus life and, much to my delight, the student organization that made me feel so at home. In fact, she applied to become Block O’s softball director, went through the process of making a presentation to the organization’s board and landed the position. I’m excited to see what’s ahead for her.

To Ella and her fellow Blockies — now numbering close to 3,000 — I’d like to say this: Our history as Buckeyes is a good indicator of our future. That’s because we take the words of “Carmen Ohio” to heart. How firm thy friendship, indeed.

The network of friends and contacts we create as Buckeyes gives us a common thread. That’s the ethos explaining why I am connected to alumni 30 years older and 30 years younger than me.

It’s also why a dedicated group of alumni is banding together to create an alumni society for Ohio State’s largest student organization. Our core team organizing the Block O Alumni Society is developing a strategy to create meaningful and memorable mentorship and networking events with current and former students. We’re also creating opportunities for aspiring Buckeyes who might not otherwise have the chance to attend college.

And, above all, we’re demonstrating for future generations that being part of Block O is about far more than attending sporting events. It’s about friendship, school spirit and tradition. It’s about being a Buckeye for life — a legacy I’m thrilled to share with you, Ella.

Michael Shmarak ’91 is a member of the board for the Block O Alumni Society.

Join the crowd — again

Were you involved in Block O? Here’s your chance to relive those spirit-filled days and join the Block O Alumni Society.

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