ETSU students grateful, hopeful as they board bus to NCAA tournament

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) - Dozens of ETSU students hit the road to Orlando Wednesday night to see the Buccaneers play the University of Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

50 students waited in line for hours earlier in the week to get their hands on the free bus tickets.

News Channel 11's Justin Soto spoke with students Wednesday afternoon as they packed for the nearly ten-hour trip.

"I tried to get as much snack food and junk as we can," ETSU senior, Benjamin Page said.

With tickets in hand, ETSU Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers Kyler, Benjamin and Matthew began organizing snacks and ETSU signage for the trip.

The fraternity brothers were anxious to hit the road to Florida.

"Been excited all day, sitting through classes just waiting to go," Page said.

ETSU freshman, Kyler McKeel said he's grateful for the opportunity to see the Bucs play at this level during his first year of college.

"It's awesome, I'm blessed that this happened my first year here," McKeel said.

ETSU staff said this trip wouldn't be possible without financial support from the university and a local hospital system.

"They're able to get a charter bus, they're able to get game tickets, they're able to get a hotel at a fraction of the cost thanks to Mountain States," Assistant Vice President for Student Services, Sam Mayhew said.

Mountain States Health Alliance CEO Alan Levine is not just a University of Florida alumnus, he's a devoted fan and on the board of governors for the State University System of Florida.

"When ETSU flashed up everybody went crazy in the room, my thought was, oh no," Levine said.

Levine said since the game is in the University of Florida's backyard he wanted to help ETSU students make the trip.

"I will never root against my alma mater but I would be thrilled to see ETSU succeed," Levine said.

ETSU students said they already have a clear winner in mind.

"We got our ETSU hard hats because ETSU is going to kill it," Page said.

The trip to the NCAA is far from campus but it promises to unify the ETSU community.

"It's a magical moment, it's magical," Calvin Claggett of ETSU Athletics said.

The students are expected to reach Orlando between 9 and 10 a.m. Thursday morning.

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