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Kent State University Golden Flashes fever has spread through Kent like wildfire this year in response to multiple teams making the national spotlight, and it's blazing now as the football team seeks its first Mid-American Conference Championship title in 40 years.
KSU flags are being flown along Main Street and atop the new Ametek, Inc. building in the downtown area, KSU merchandise is flying off the store shelves and sports bars are packed with hopeful fans on game days.
"I think it's extremely tremendous -- the fever going on around Kent," Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala said, adding that as a townie, he's seeing a "tremendous" transformation between downtown, the university and its athletics. "I don't know if the stars are aligned over Kent or what, but everybody is just so supportive of that football team this year."
At 9 a.m. today, KSU is hosting a send-off party for the football team to rally around its 11-1 season before the team faces off against the Northern Illinois Huskies for the MAC title at 7 p.m. Friday in Detroit.
Downtown bars including Water Street Tavern, Ray's Place and Panini's are expecting large crowds to cheer on the Golden Flashes Friday night.
Water Street Tavern owner Mike Beder, with the sponsorship of Yuengling, is sending 110 people from downtown Kent to Detroit Friday -- the biggest trip the bar has put together yet.
Beder said Water Street Tavern originally organized just one bus, but the demand was overwhelming and Yuengling organized a second one at the last minute.
"Everyone I've talked to, be it alumni, friends or people in the athletic department, the conversation always goes to: 'Can you believe we're even having this conversation?' The answer is always: 'No, I cannot,'" Beder said.
Matt French, vice president and general manager for Ametek's Kent division, said he's received a surprising amount of positive calls and emails in response to the flags flying on the company's new building. The company had begun flying eight international flags representing the nations where it does business, but replaced them this week with KSU flags.
"I think it's a testament to how many people are starting to get on the bandwagon that the team is pretty good," French said.
French said sports have a way of bringing people together, and in Kent especially, things are falling into place.
"If you think about it, Kent is really well positioned," he said. "We've got a great private sector with a great downtown project, we've got great public service right now, we've got great community life and we've got a great university, and for a long time I think those four things were seen separately."
Kent Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lori Wemhoff said she's been rallying the Kent community to come downtown this morning to show support as the team buses roll through.
"It's the whole town and going thing going to the next level," Wemhoff said. "This is another example of the two entities working together, trying to get as many people from the business community and residents excited about it."
Contact this reporter at 330-298-1127 or kmcdonald@recordpubcom