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June 11, 2013

Each year about this time of the late spring and early summer, the Old Dominion Monarchs break out the caravan.

No, it's not a Dodge Caravan, or as the moms like to call it, the Swagger Wagon. It's a coaching caravan. The head coaches of the men's and women's basketball teams and the football team buzz around Hampton Roads and rub elbows with the fans. Jeff Jones, Karen Barefoot and Bobby Wilder embarked last week on the caravan.

Upcoming Caravan Dates
Chick's Oyster Bar Virginia Beach Tuesday, June 11
James River Country Club Newport News Wednesday June 19

They hit Greenbrier Country Club in Chesapeake on Thursday evening. They'll do it again at Chick's Oyster Bar in Virginia Beach on Tuesday and will then make it to James River Country Club in Newport News on June 19, a Wednesday. After that, they will eventually make their way to Richmond and then Washington, D.C.

It's a goodwill gesture open to the public. And the public seems to come every time, for this is the opportunity to rub elbows with the coaches, as well as Mark Benson of the Old Dominion Athletic Foundation and ODU athletic director Wood Selig.

"We're always asking people to come to our games, so this is our way of going to them and reaching out to the fans," Benson said. "We send out newsletters and eblasts and they can sign up online to attend.

"We see new fans, fans we've known for quite a while. We get all types of fans. And this year, the fans are very excited and curious about our move to Conference USA and what this means to us."

Jones couldn't even make it into the room assigned to the Old Dominion Athletic Foundation before he was answering questions about the team. He'd already had a long day, meeting with a representative of the Seven Cities summer league to make sure all of the Monarchs had their team assignments set.

And yet, there he was, talking to fans on the steps of Greenbrier's second floor.

It was a similar deal for Barefoot and Wilder.

"The fans want to know our coaching philosophies, who is working out hardest in the offseason, things like that," Selig said. "We did this in Norfolk for a while, but we realized we needed to be the ones traveling to the fans because asking the fans to come to us in rush-hour traffic ... It can be hard to get around Hampton Roads at that time of the day. This thing is really gaining momentum."

Wayne Goodman and his friends had huddled around Wilder at a cocktail table and were yucking it up.

"This is the personal touch," said Goodman, who is from Suffolk. "The six of us have had football tickets together since Day 1. So when coach Wilder comes over and starts talking with us like we're long-time friends ... We are long-time fans. And we expect to be fans for a long time. We're already making plans to go to the games at East Carolina and Maryland and North Carolina this fall."

Barefoot said that a lot of the fans she runs into "want to know who's making the most progress in the offseason. They are looking for some insider information. They want some scoop." For Wilder, he knows what the most-asked question will be about his football team.

"Right behind 'How's (quarterback Taylor) Heinicke doing, they immediately ask if our defense is going to be better this year," Wilder said.

Want to hear his answer? Then maybe you should make it out to Chick's Oyster Bar on Tuesday night.


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