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Block O fires up the crowd and builds student bonds along the way

A showdown made for Saturdays in autumn: Penn State versus Ohio State. The storied programs and rivals are vying for a shot at the Big Ten Championship and, if their winning ways continue, a chance for a national title.

As 103,000 Buckeye fans and a few Nittany Lions make their way into Ohio Stadium this weekend, it will be cold, it will be crowded and it will be loud. And the loudest fans in the ’Shoe will likely be the students in Block O.

“It’s like the craziest kids in this school, that are coming here at 8 a.m. to paint their whole bodies and run around the ’Shoe,” said Gracie Klatt, a first-year early childhood education major. “It’s so fun. Everybody loves Buckeye Nation and everybody wants to be here.”

Whether it’s cheering until they can’t speak anymore, getting painted head-to-toe in scarlet and gray in the cold fall weather or performing card stunts, Block O has been leading the way for fans of Ohio State for more than 80 years.

The university’s largest student organization traces its roots to 1938 and Clancy Isaac, head cheerleader and student. Isaac launched the first official cheering section at that season’s homecoming game against Indiana. For each game, the student section would perform elaborate card stunts while cheering for the Buckeyes.

“We started out just doing card stunts and then we were just supporting football for a really long time but now we have … technically 13 [student support] sections,” said Nicole Zaayer, vice president of Block O. “So we support everything from football and basketball to tennis, gymnastics and volleyball.”

Zaayer, a fourth-year strategic communication major, joined Block O as a sophomore. She said the spent time this summer at a conference for student sections and came away with a belief that her team is unique.

“A lot of other schools, their student sections are within athletics and so they don’t really get to have that side of truly controlling everything they’re doing,” she said. “I think it matters a lot that it’s just student driven. It shows that the students are the ones really holding a lot of the traditions and keeping them going.”

The Block O students are recognizable in the south and north stands in Ohio Stadium. They lead the chants and fire up the crowd. At basketball games, they make up the Nut House section. The Ohio State hockey teams have the Knucklebucks in their corner. Gymnastics, volleyball and other sports get similar support.

Membership in Block O is $20 per year. Students who sign up to sit in the Block O section for football games pay the fee with their tickets. About 2,300 of the 2,700 members of the student organization join through the football tickets.

“The core mission of Block O is to support every student, especially our student-athletes, no matter what,” Zaayer said. “We really did start out with just one student section. If someone wants to add a section, they come to us and propose it and we vote on it and if it’s approved, then they’ll get a budget.”

More than supporting student athletes, Block O is a student support system for its members. For Emily Pesce, it’s a way to build new relationships far from home.

Pesce is a first-year accounting major from New Jersey. She chose Ohio State because her father was a huge Buckeye fan.

“I signed up for a game day setup and I made a bunch of friends,” she said. “It was great to just get to know people and get that sense of family, because all my roommates are from Ohio and they go home every weekend. They get to see their family. I don’t get to do that but [Block O] is my weekend home.”

Beyond friendship, Pesce uses Block O to build her network. She works on the Block O treasury committee and interacts with the student organization’s sponsors.

“I can make those connections with companies; I can make those connections with students. It’s just a huge help,” she said.

Griffin Spielman, the president of Block O, has a similar story. The fourth-year marketing major is also from New Jersey and has no family connections to Ohio State. He just fell in love with the football team when he was 10 years old and never looked back.

“It’s amazing. I’ve met all of my best friends here and the kids I live with, the kids I’m going to talk to for the rest of my life,” he said. “The first meeting I went to my freshman year, I told the president at the time that I was going to be president one day because I was a crazier fan than he was.”

Spielman said the leadership skills he’s learned in his time at Block O are serving him in the real world.

“The leadership and the selling aspect recruiting Block O members – that’s what all of these companies are seeing and saying, ‘Wow, this is a section of people that scream at sports, but it’s actually really applicable to anything,’” he said.

As senior members of the student organization, Zaayer and Spielman are preparing to hand over their leadership roles. Both said they’ve made incredible memories at home and on the road supporting the Buckeyes.

“I really love that we’re able to represent the university in so many different ways,” Zaayer said, “just to be a part of a lot of the traditions and experiences that people have at Ohio State, even when it’s not always evident that it’s Block O. It’s great just being a part of the tradition of Ohio State and part of that legacy.”

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