Colorful fans stand out in the crowd
KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct 1, 2018) — It could be said that Kennesaw State senior Caleb Norman wears his school spirit on his sleeve – except that he doesn’t actually wear sleeves during football games at Fifth Third Bank Stadium. Instead, Norman shows his Owl pride on his bare arms. And his chest. And face.
Prior to last season, Norman founded The Owls Nest, an organization of KSU students who support the football team loudly and proudly at each home game. Standing and cheering the entire time, the dedicated fans are easy to spot – especially the dozen or more of them whose faces and bodies are coated with black and gold paint.
“As soon as we painted up, it was like a spotlight on us – and we haven’t looked back since then,” said Norman, a political science major from Woodstock. “It has caught on that it’s fun at Kennesaw State football games, we have a good team, and it’s cool to be there.”
Now in its second season, the group has its pre-game painting routine down pat. Using regular house paint, rollers and brushes, all the participants are slathered in school colors in about an hour’s time while they’re tailgating. The much more arduous process is washing off the paint after the game – especially for the ones with facial hair.
“You get the paint off, but the hair comes with it,” Norman said. “It’s definitely not a comfortable experience. It is not something I would willingly do for pretty much anything other than Kennesaw State football.”
‘I haven’t been to a Kennesaw game wearing a shirt’
Norman attended the very first Kennesaw State home football game on Sept. 12, 2015 and has been a mainstay in the student section ever since. Even so, he wanted to do something to add to the school spirit shown at the games.
So, in the summer before his junior year, Norman thought of “painting up” for home games. He ran the idea by his roommate, Ike Likins, who was on board.
“It is amazing being part of something that is the first-ever done in a school’s history, to be here for the start of the football program and help build the game-day atmosphere,” said Likins, a sales major from Marietta. “We really enjoy ourselves out here. It definitely gives you some great memories – some of the best.”
Norman and Likins recruited more participants from the campus ministry in which they are active. Several of those students were freshmen last year, so they haven’t attended KSU games any other way than as painted members of The Owls Nest.
“I don’t know KSU football games before there were guys going crazy painting up, so it’s really exciting to know that this is new for everyone else,” said Matthew O’Neill, a sophomore from Dalton majoring in media entertainment. “I haven’t been to a Kennesaw game wearing a shirt. This is what we do – and I love it.”
The Owls Nest has grown to about 60 members, according to Norman – although they don’t all don paint for games. In appreciation of the group’s school spirit, Kennesaw State’s athletics marketing department has given The Owls Nest its own designated area in the student section, marking off the first two rows of section 115 for every game.
“I plan to keep coming to Kennesaw State games after I graduate, and it’s going to be really exciting to look back and say, ‘See those 50 kids painted up and screaming in the front row? I helped start that,’” Norman said. “This always has been something that’s bigger than us. This is something that we collectively as a group will get to look back on and say, ‘We were the beginners.’”
Not just for the guys
Like Norman, senior Emily Bergquist has been attending KSU home football games since the inaugural one. Bergquist still has one of the free T-shirts given out for that game, one of “about 500 Kennesaw State shirts” she claims to own.
“All I wear is Kennesaw State apparel, because it’s just so important to show off your colors,” said Bergquist, an early childhood education major from Kennesaw. “I have so much pride in KSU, and being a part of this place – when they win, when they lose – is what it’s all about.”
She didn’t envision her KSU attire including paint, but that changed at the 2017 home opener. Her intention simply was to help paint her male friends, and she accompanied Norman to a local store to buy the necessary supplies. When they took gallon cans of black and gold paint to the checkout line, Bergquist had a memorable conversation with a store clerk.
“He looked at me and was like, ‘So you’re painting your room gold?’” Bergquist recalled. “And I said, ‘No, sir – we’re painting a bunch of bodies gold.’”
Prior to the game, the group realized they needed one more person to spell “Kennesaw Owls” with letters painted on their chests. Bergquist agreed to have the “O” painted on her shirt, along with black and gold coating on her arms, neck and face.
“I was so self-conscious walking through the tailgating area like that,” she said, “and then this mom came up to me and said, ‘Can my kids take a picture with you? It’s so awesome that you’re out here with the boys doing this.’
“And from then on, I’ve painted up at every home game.”
– Paul Floeckher
Photos and video by Rob Witzel
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.