Putting the fan in fanatics: When they’re not working, they’re rooting for their favorite teams

TRAVERSE CITY – On the surface, they have very little in common.

One is the president of the National Cherry Festival, another sells real estate and the third is a teacher at a small area school.

Yet when they get home from work, they all transform into the same person: the Sports Fanatic. They are Mary Marois, Andy Stireman and Ron Stremlow.

"I wasn't always a sports fanatic but I became one after meeting my husband Denny many years ago," said Marois, the retired director of Grand Traverse/ Leelanau Department of Human Services who is now president of the Cherry Festival.

"My absolute favorite sport is NFL football," she said. "I've been commissioner of our Fantasy Football League for 13 or 14 years. So I follow the NFL more than any other sport."

Fantasy football – like other fantasy sports that are played by millions across the U.S. – involves setting up leagues where real life athletes are "drafted" onto teams. The statistics that the athletes produce add up to points for each team owner.

While the NFL is her No. 1 sport, she also closely follows the NBA, college basketball and baseball.

She just won her NCAA basketball pool by correctly picking North Carolina to win the national championship.

Marois, who also volunteers on several nonprofit agencies, can't imagine losing interest in sports now.

"It's an interest that my husband and I share," she said. "We really get into it. We love it."

Stireman, 40, sells real estate for Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realtors. He became a Sports Fanatic at the age of 16.

"That's when my dad took me to Tiger Stadium for Game 3 of the 1984 American League Championship Series (ALCS) against the (Kansas City) Royals," said Andy. "The Tigers won and hundreds of fans stormed the field. I also met the boxer Tommy Hearns during the game and got his autograph.

"Hearns was getting ready to fight Marvin Hagler and as Tommy handed me back his autograph I said to him, "You're gonna kill Hagler." Hearns immediately got this blank stare on his face and stared at the field and twice repeated what I had just told him, "I'm gonna kill him… I'm gonna kill him."

Andy laughs now at the incident.

"As it turned out, Tommy and I were wrong," he said. "Hagler beat Hearns, but I'll never forget that game with my dad, my exchange with Hearns and getting to see my Tigers advance to the World Series."

Twenty-two years later, Andy took his longtime girlfriend Joni to Game 4 of the 2006 ALCS when the Tigers defeated the heavily favored New York Yankees.

"The celebration was incredible," he said. "Nobody – and I mean nobody – left the stadium for at least 45 minutes after the game. The Tigers players ran around the perimeter of the field giving high fives to fans and spraying countless bottles of champagne on each other. On the way out of the stadium, strangers were hugging and everyone was honking their horns. It was amazing."

Stireman also follows the Detroit Lions closely and has also been at games where Brett Favre tossed his 400th career touchdown pass. He attended the 1996 U.S. Open Golf Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club near Detroit and has attended countless Red Wings, Pistons and University of Michigan football games, not to mention spring training games in Arizona and revered hockey sites like Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

He's also one of the Traverse City Beach Bums' biggest fans.

"We love our Bums! The first season I went to each and every single home game. I didn't miss a single one. The second season I kept that streak going for about 20 games or so. We've even been to Kalamazoo to see the Bums play on the road…"My biggest Beach Bums memory is of Ernie Harwell throwing out the first pitch for one of their games," he said. "It's ironic because listening to Ernie on the radio doing Tigers games as a child helped me get hooked on sports."

Of the three Sports Fanatics, Stremlow became hooked at the earliest age.

"I can't remember when I wasn't," he said with a laugh. "I grew up in a big family and we always played sports and followed sports."

But Stremlow took his passion to a new level.

He has been to three Olympics, including Barcelona, Spain and Los Angeles.

"To me, that's the ultimate sports competition," he said. "Once I went to my first Olympics, I was hooked. It's just an unbelievable experience."

Stremlow, who teaches physical education and is the athletic director at Forest Area High School, grew up playing sports in Kingsley. But he has been all around the U.S. while attending Super Bowls (San Diego), Final Fours (San Antonio), NBA Finals, baseball All-Star games and many other pro and college events.

"Even when games are sold out, you can find a ticket if you're patient," he said. "I like to get to a game early and talk to the people. There are a lot of good, honest people who are sports fans. One time I went to a Michigan at Ohio State football game and didn't have tickets. Needless to say, I didn't wear blue. I just went there looking like an average fan and started talking to people. I got tickets by just using a little common sense."

But of all the sports and the venues that Stremlow has seen in his 49 years, he makes no bones about what he likes best.

"I still love to follow high school sports," he said. "They play the games for the purest reason – they love it."

All sports fanatics can identify with that. BN