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Spreading Good Jeer : Oft-Costumed 'Matamaniacs' Mercilessly Heckle Cal State Northridge Foes

April 28, 1993|MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Their proudest moment? That's a tough call.

It might have been when they earned prominent mention in a basketball team's scouting report.

Or when Gary Adams, UCLA's baseball coach, blamed a defeat on them.

Or when Harold Merritt, Northern Arizona's basketball coach, said they were among the reasons his team would never again play at the Cal State Northridge gymnasium.

Or when Sara Mallett, left fielder for the Nevada Las Vegas softball team, succinctly and dramatically asked them to refrain from chirping in her ear.

Truth be told, there are many more possibilities.

Rating the highlights of the roving band of Northridge athletes-turned-hecklers is like trying to rank Michael Jordan's dunks or Madonna's outrageous outfits.

They have painted their faces, donned wigs and pranced around in funky polyester disco clothes. They have charged through the aisles of the Northridge gymnasium, ranting, raving and energizing the apathetic. They have break-danced their way through the routines of Matador cheerleaders.

Opponents have scowled at them, cried at them, screamed at them and gestured toward them--sometimes obscenely.

They are the Matamaniacs, creators of Matamania. And darn proud of it.

Opposing coaches have called them troublemakers. A Northridge coach describes them as "spirit-filled guys having a good time."

Which is it? "Both, definitely," said Coley Kyman, a ringleader of the group of about two dozen Matamaniacs.

Kyman, an All-American middle blocker in volleyball and a backup quarterback in football, was among a group of men's volleyball players who unintentionally founded the Matamaniacs three years ago.

The losers of a friendly softball game between the Matador volleyball and men's basketball teams were required to paint their faces and cheer for the winners at a home game of the winners' choice. Suggested attire: the craziest costume possible.

"This all started because we lost in the bottom of the ninth," Kyman said. "We didn't really want to do it, but we lost the bet. We had to."

The basketball players chose their final home game of the 1989-90 season, a contest against California Collegiate Athletic Assn. champion Bakersfield, a team that advanced to the NCAA Division II final four.

When the volleyball team pranced into Matador Gym that night, the crowd cheered and a mediocre basketball team was transformed. Northridge won in overtime, 96-88, and a tradition was born.

"It was wild," said Chris McGee, who along with Kyman and Matt Unger is considered a leader among maniacs. "We had so much fun. We were like, 'This could be the start of something.' "

It was. The maniacs, who now encompass athletes representing most of the school's sports teams, claim the men's basketball team has a record of 18-2 with them in costume. This by a team that has posted an overall record of 29-54 the past three years.

"Of course, the credit goes to the basketball team," Kyman said. "But 18-2? You've got to think we at least have something to do with that."

Although they rarely dress up for anything but basketball games, the Matamaniacs are regulars at other Northridge sporting events.

"I think they're trying to figure out a way to introduce heckling to women's tennis," said John Price, coach of the Matador volleyball team.

Baseball is Kyman's personal favorite because it is played outdoors, in a quiet setting--"so you can hear everything we say"--and he can station himself low in the bleachers between home plate and first base, adjacent to--and within whispering distance--of the visiting team's dugout.

Besides, he adds, "People expect heckling in baseball. It's part of the game."

Expected or not, there have been several occasions when Kyman's barbs have struck an angry chord.

"A couple of guys have wanted to fight me," he said. "This one time, when I was by myself, I was on this pitcher. I was in his dish the whole day and after he gave up about five runs and they took him out, he came straight over to the gate and tried to come out and get me. It was funny."

Price recalls another time when the father of one of Kyman's targets spoke up.

"Coley was all over this pitcher, just mercilessly," Price said, "and all of a sudden the kid's father, who is sitting right behind him, leans over and says, 'Hey, I'd appreciate it if you'd shut up. That's my son you're talking about.' It got real quiet. I think people might have been expecting Coley to apologize or something."

Instead, Kyman looked at the man, glanced back over his shoulder at the pitcher, then turned back to the man and blurted, "He's weeeak!"

"Coley doesn't back down," Price said.

But, occasionally, he gets trumped.

On one occasion, when an opposing pitcher failed to pick off a Northridge runner, Kyman barked one of his favorite lines: "I've seen better moves than that in the back seat of my car!"

When an opposing fan retorted, "Too bad you were still in the front seat," Kyman led the laughter.

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