Jedlicka serves as king of the Zoo

By J.P Hanish

For as long as most Pitt fans can remember, the Oakland Zoo has been a huge part of the Pitt… For as long as most Pitt fans can remember, the Oakland Zoo has been a huge part of the Pitt men’s basketball program. Since the Panthers moved to the Peterson Events Center, they’ve had a 110-10 record at home and consistently compete at the top of the Big East conference. But just eight years ago, this wasn’t the case. At that point, Pitt played in the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse, and the program had not reached the NCAA tournament since 1993. The Oakland Zoo didn’t exist. While many Panther fans have been here for the program’s recent success, only one of us was here to watch ex-Pitt coach Ben Howland and current coach Jamie Dixon turn the Panthers into a national powerhouse. His name is David Jedlicka. And as the Oakland Zoo’s president, he’s one of the most recognized students in the stands. Jedlicka, known by many students as ‘the bald guy,’ is a third year graduate student studying audiology. Since 2001, he said he’s missed only one home game. ‘It was last year when we got blown out by Louisville,’ said Jedlicka. ‘I had an exam in my night class, and it turned out to be the worst loss inside the Pete.’ In terms of time, Jedlicka has spent 284 hours watching Pitt home games. That is almost 12 days of basketball, and it doesn’t include the hours spent in line and warm-ups before the game. ‘It’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else, and that’s why I go’ he said. ‘You feel like you are a part of something, and when you put the T-shirt on, you feel proud to be a part of the Zoo.’ Jedlicka started attending Pitt basketball games during Ben Howland’s second season. The student section was nothing like the Pitt Zoo of today. ‘We weren’t anything formal,’ said Jedlicka. ‘There were 10 to 20 people, but we were never an organization like today.’ But on Jan. 13, 2001, against the then No. 15-ranked Seton Hall Pirates, the Pitt Zoo was born. The Panthers upset the heavily favored Pirates 77-65.’ ‘It was really the starting point. We all rushed the floor, and it really took off after that,’ said Jedlicka of the game. At first the athletic department did not recognize the Zoo, opting to name the student section ‘The Aero-Zone.” This was in reference to Aeropostale, Pitt’s former clothing sponsor. The name never caught on. Instead, the Zoo went to different restaurants and stores to help fund its T-shirts. Before the Panthers moved into the Pete, Pitt’s athletic department finally recognized the Zoo, and its popularity started to grow. ‘It was spread by word of mouth,’ said Jedlicka, who helps design the yellow ‘Zoo’ shirts. ‘There were just a bunch of kids screaming at basketball games, and it started to catch on.’ Over the next six seasons, the Panthers grew into a stronger program and the Zoo became nationally recognized as one of the best student sections in college basketball. In 2006, Big East players voted the Pete as the conference’s toughest place to play in Sports Illustrated, citing the Zoo as a major reason. Despite the recognition, Jedlicka tries to keep his task very simple.’ ‘I want to do everything possible to create a home court advantage,’ he said. ‘If I could change anything, I would want a lot of the fans you see for big events [come out] to every game.’ For a student who traveled 20 straight hours to attend the Duke game last year, Jedlicka’s time along Pitt’s sideline is running out.’ ‘I’m going to finish my doctorate in 2010,’ he said. And when that time comes, it’ll be odd to see the Zoo without him. Because from what he has seen and been a part of, it’s safe to say Jedlicka has become as much a fixture in the Oakland Zoo as the yellow T-shirts themselves.

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