Chances are Tom Pounds will never be a household name, although in my eyes he should be. As all you faithful readers know, I like to recognize fans for going above and beyond and being That Fan. Tom Pounds is about as good of an example that I have come across, and that is why he is That Fan of the Month for November 2009.
So who is Tom Pounds you ask? Let me walk you through how I found him…when I started this blog about a month ago, my goal was to write about a side of sports that you can’t get elsewhere, the sports fan. You can go to a million sites to talk sports, but where can you visit a site that focuses solely on fans? One of the best scenes of amazing fans is on Saturday morning College Gameday broadcasts. I’ve always watched College Gameday, but only after starting this blog did I start watching it in extreme detail, including all of the scenery in the background (signs, flags, hand gestures, etc.).
As I started covering the show for That Fan, I noticed I was seeing two Washington State flags at every broadcast. It didn’t matter what school the show was at, those flags were there. I was completely fascinated by this, because let’s be honest, Washington State hasn’t really had a great program lately. I mentioned the flags on a few of my posts and thankfully a reader pointed out that there was a fan out there who had been organizing this to happen. I immediately did my research, found out the tradition was started by Tom Pounds, and reached out to him for an interview which he agreed to. This weekend will mark the 87th consecutive broadcast that the Washington State flags have been flying on Gameday, an amazing accomplishment. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed doing it. My goal is to get this amazing story out for all fans to read!
That Fan: How did you become a Washington State fan and how long have you been cheering on the Cougars?
Tom Pounds: I am a WSU alum from the class of 1981. I have been a fan since I was a kid.
That Fan: What was the first time you had the WSU flags present at a Gameday and why did you decide to start the tradition?
Tom Pounds: The first time I did the College Gameday show was Oct 4, 2003. I knew the show was going to be in Austin that Saturday and I was going to be there visiting relatives. 2 weeks later a Coug fan in Minneapolis asked me to ship him the flag and he drove 300+ miles to the show in Madison, WI. A week later a guy in Olympia, WA volunteered his daughter to do the show in Bowling Green. After that, I just kept finding people to ship the flag to, week after week. From Madison, on, it has been 87 shows in-a-row (as of 11/14/09). Why? There is a phrase known to WSU fans and alums alike, “It’s a Coug thing”. We WSU fans and alums have been known for some crazy things on campus.
That Fan: Has anyone from College Gameday ever contacted you about the streak and what you do?
Tom Pounds: Several Northwest newspapers picked up on the story in 2003 and 2004 — I had several interviews. USA Today did a story on the flag last year. ESPN also interviewed me on camera last year:
That Fan: I’m sure you’ve seen the WSU flag commercial for Gameday (shown below), did they contact you before they did the commercial? What did you think when you first saw it?
Tom Pounds: Yes I’ve seen it. Several Coug fans got to see an advance copy of the promo a week before it supposedly aired. A friend of my brother says he has seen it on-the-air, but I haven’t seen it except on Youtube and in the advance-viewing. I didn’t have anything to do with ESPN making the promo, but I absolutely love it!
That Fan: College Gameday’s Twitter account said a new Washington State flag commercial would be unveiled this week at College Gameday. Do you know anything about it that you can share?
Tom Pounds: I don’t know anything about a new commercial, nor have I seen any advance viewings of anything new.
That Fan: Do people travel to each site or do you typically find someone who lives in the location of where Gameday is being taped?
Tom Pounds: Typically fans and alums live within 50 miles of where the show is being broadcast that week. This year, the exception has been the show at Penn State. The WSU grad/Penn State grad student who was there, had graduated. New York city and New Jersey Cougs had to drive 250 miles to cover it (my Pittsburgh guys were nowhere to be found either).
That Fan: How do you find people in other cities? For instance, if a school is getting a broadcast for the first time, do you have to track someone down or will people reach out to you wanting to do it?
Tom Pounds: Back in 2003 and 2004 finding people was difficult. Other than the first 2 weeks in-a-row (as mentioned before), I used a network of Coug alums and fans from the Scout.com sports board: Cougfan.com. It was strictly by word-of-mouth and through Cougfan that I found people to do the shows. Some people had to drive hundreds of miles to get to the shows. Eventually I got a ‘critical mass’ of WSU alums and fans on my list but even in 2005 some weeks I was ‘sweating it out’ on late Thursday (deadline to ship overnight to Friday). Last year and this year WSU fans are e-mailing me ahead of time wanting to wave the flags on the show. I now have (at latest count) 134 people on my list in just about every city ESPN normally goes to. Sometimes the WSU alumni office will assist in finding someone, but that’s rare that I have to ask for help.
That Fan: Are the flag carriers always Washington State fans or are they people who have agreed to help you out?
Tom Pounds: I’d say 90% of the flag-wavers are WSU alums. Certainly the other 10% are *fans* of what we do. Some regular flag-wavers are actually alums of other schools.
That Fan: Are you ever worried someone is secretly a Washington fan looking to sabotage you?
Tom Pounds: Back in 2003 and 2004, sabotage was always a concern. Through 2005, 2006, and 2007 not so much, as I had my crew of regulars doing the shows. As the effort gained popularity and more people asked to be put on the list, I started to worry more about sabotage, again. The WSU alumni office will verify anyone claiming to be an alum and I have used this service many times. Other fan websites (scout.com, rivals.com etc. — for the school hosting Gameday) will always post about the CGD show coming to their school. Reading those threads is very telling. I have read posts of host school fans plotting against the WSU flag, but in every case they are chastised by the majority of the others on that board.
That Fan: Is there anything else in it for the flag carriers other than knowing they are a part of the streak? Do you pay them or do they get to keep the flags?
Tom Pounds: Everyone who does the show and waves the WSU flag is a volunteer. An organization called the Ol’ Crimson Booster Club, a grassroots organization of WSU alums and fans collects money to pay for shipping costs, but if someone has to travel more than about 100 miles we will pay for their gas. Doing the show is a great experience.
That Fan: What is your typical week of preparation like in getting the flags there for Gameday, starting with when you find out where the show will be located?
Tom Pounds: My typical week for getting the flags on the show starts with reading the ESPN site late Sunday afternoon to find out where they will be the following Saturday. Keep in mind — even the ESPN producers do not generally know where the show will be more than 6 days in advance. Once I know where they will be, I look on my list to see who is in that city (or geographic area) and I send out e-mails. Sometimes I will make a phone call, too. Usually, by Monday I have a name of someone who is available to do the show. Back in 2003 and 2004, “Usually”, was Thursday — talk about stress! Once I have a name (and address), I simply pass that information to the person who has the flags. This comes as a standard set of instructions for how to fill out a FedEx Airbill, complete with the account number. The flags usually arrive at the next person’s home by Friday afternoon and they take them to the show the next morning. FedEx hasn’t failed us, yet.
That Fan: I think I read somewhere that you make the flags, is that true?
Tom Pounds: Like I said before, the first flag was hand-made by my mom (visiting at the time). All the rest of the flags have been hand sewn by my wife, Syndie (who passed away last January).
That Fan: How many sets of your flags are out there?
Tom Pounds: There is one set of flags, only: a burgundy/crimson nylon flag, a white nylon flag, and a commercial nylon flag (donated by the WSU book store in 2003). In addition there is a cloth flag for autographs. Some of the past flags have been retired but replaced with newer identical ones. 3 have been lost in transition — 1 off the back of a pickup truck; two fallen out of a broken shipping tube.
That Fan: How much money do you spend on doing this?
Tom Pounds: Back in 2003 a non-profit corporation was set up in Washington to raise money and distribute funds for this effort. WSU fans have donated thousands of dollars over the years to keep this thing going. Our annual budget is approximately $2,500.00. That includes all shipping costs, things like new flagpoles, material for new flags, and paying for some people’s travel expense. Remember that guy who volunteered his daughter to go to Bowling Green? He’s the one who set up the corporation — the Ol’ Crimson Booster Club.
That Fan: You seem to be quite the Washington State celebrity. Does anyone from the school administration ever reach out to you?
Tom Pounds: The WSU AD asked me to speak at 2 fundraisers earlier this year. I also spoke at a fund-raiser in 2004. The athletic department wants me to help set up a web site with information on the flag.
That Fan: How long do you envision keeping this going?
Tom Pounds: My immediate goal is to see the flag present at 100 CGD shows in-a-row. This will happen next year. After that I would like to see ESPN bring the show to Pullman, WA. Even then there isn’t any real reason to quit. I might have someone else take over if I get tired of doing the organizing.
That was a great interview. If any of you have additional questions for him, let me know and I will try and get them answered. If you’d like to donate money to the cause you can find more info HERE. I’m looking forward to seeing if a new WSU flag commercial is unveiled this week on Gameday. Tom – you ‘da man!