UCLA's Four Horsemen spark fan revolution
The most recognizable faces in college softball aren't on the field -- they're in the stands, writes Graham Hays.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Walk around Oklahoma City's Bricktown neighborhood -- the old warehouse district that has been transformed into a pedestrian-friendly collection of restaurants, bars and shops -- during the first week of June and odds are good you'll see a big name from the world of college softball.
But four of the most popular targets of fan adoration as they saunter around town or set up shop in the parking lot of Don E. Porter Hall of Fame Stadium don't wear cleats and, to the best of our knowledge, have never shopped for sports bras.
In fact, scruffy and casually attired in worn shirts and shorts, they look more like the opening act for Death Cab for Cutie than Women's College World Series legends.
They are the "Four Horsemen," the crowd-rallying, chant-spouting, hardcore UCLA fans who may need to apply for membership in the Screen Actor's Guild given the amount of air time they get during broadcasts from Oklahoma City.
Known individually as Sean Henry, Rory Henry, Shane Lehman and Frankie Mortellaro (Matt Admundson, one of the founding members of the Horsemen, was unable to attend this year's event when his job with Red Bull interfered), the four together are an Oklahoma City icon.
"We go to Whataburger, we get recognized; we go to Bricktown, we get recognized," said Sean. "It's amazing."
In fact, it's possible they're more recognizable than Bruins junior outfielder Tara Henry, the little sister whose presence at UCLA was the spark that brought the Four Horsemen into existence.
"When my little sister was a freshman in 2004, one of the first tournaments that we had was in Long Beach, and my brother and I met up with Matt and Shane," Sean said. "Matt and Shane were boyfriends of [former UCLA players] Claire Sua and Allie Chislock. We met up and we just decided to be rowdy fans, and get together and put together some witty cheers. Be funny and be positive at the same time."
Tuesday, June 6
Monday, June 5
"[Tara] loves it, all the girls love it," Sean said. "The girls love the support, it pumps them up. They really like us getting everyone pumped up, getting rowdy and making sure that all the rest of the Bruins fans are pumped up and cheering."
Outnumbered by a sizable margin against Texas, the Horsemen gained an assist from the team when UCLA struck first to seize a 1-0 lead. But even before the run quieted the bulk of the crowd, the small contingent of UCLA fans was in full throat. Whether leading the ubiquitous "U-C ... L-A" chant or paying homage to Andrea Duran's mother after the senior third baseman legged out an inside-the-park home run, the Horsemen rarely rested until the game was over and they could retire to bask in the glow of victory in a Bricktown watering hole.
"And it's even better, because now even Texas has Horsemen," Sean said. "Every team has a Horsemen squad now, where everybody is pumped up."
And it's not just in Oklahoma City anymore. At places like UCLA, Texas A&M and many more campus sites, the crowds at big games increasingly resemble a soccer-type atmosphere.
As the most well-known leaders of the revolution, UCLA's Horsemen are even recognized and respected by the players and teams they root for the Bruins to beat.
"We'll have all the greatest players -- you know, Cat Osterman says hi to us, Caitlin Lowe says hi to us," Sean said. "It's so funny how the greatest players in the world recognize us from this funny thing two years ago that we started and now it's turned into this whole thing."
Regular guys -- self-professed sports junkies who attended and love all things UCLA -- whose family ties gave them an early appreciation for a sport that many of their peers might be reluctant to admit enjoying, the Horsemen aren't letting their newfound celebrity status go to their heads.
"We're just living vicariously through our little sister; she got all the athletic genes in the family," Sean said.
Of course, he said it just moments after being approached by a young fan hoping to get a picture with the most famous fans in Oklahoma City.
They look a little like rock stars and for this week, they sort of are.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's softball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.