MARTINSBURG - A two-day Cove tradition resumed here Thursday as the curtain went up on the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
It began a number of years ago when Lynn "Wimp" Ranalli, a club officer, would open up the Eagles in Williamsburg for the first round of the Big Dance.
Ranalli, a former Williamsburg basketball player and longtime sports fan, would sit around watching the games, "until people got there after work," close friend Joe Zehner said. "It was just him in there alone waiting for people to come in."
Soon, Zehner said, "people started taking Friday off."
That evolved into a nucleus of friends in the Cove, mainly graduates from Williamsburg and Central High Schools, morphing the idea into a two-day venture with big screen TVs and plenty of refreshments.
Thursday, it was at Mark and Kay Bechtel's house - we'll have 50 [people] by tonight," Mark Bechtel said - and today, the group convenes at Jeff and Tracy Colbert's in Williamsburg.
And it does so with Ranalli, who died suddenly in 2008 of a brain aneurysm at the age of 46, on their minds and in their hearts.
"Nicest guy ever," Zehner said.
"He just gave," Bechtel said.
Ranalli's allegiance was split between two programs, Penn State football and Georgetown basketball.
"He had a tattoo [of each team's logo] on each arm," Zehner said.
Mostly, though, he loved sports and his friends. He filmed Williamsburg boys and girls basketball games "and he came to Central a lot," Colbert said.
Products of the two schools "grow up rivals, but as you get older you realize you're one and the same."
Ranalli died eight days after his older brother, Ken. Six months later, their father, Veto, a fixture on the Williamsburg and PSU sports scenes, passed away at age 86.
"Veto lost two sons in less than two weeks," Zehner said.
Most on hand Thursday afternoon were disappointed Penn State fell to Temple, 66-64, at the buzzer, but the camaraderie wasn't dampened.
"We're all Penn State fans, but we're fans of other basketball teams, too," Bechtel said, citing North Carolina and Georgetown and adding with a smirk, "we even have some Pitt fans here."
They're all threaded by their past and love for Wimp Ranalli.
"He's here right now," Bechtel, a 1974 graduate of Central who played on the Scarlet Dragons' Mountain League title team, said. "He's here forever, especially today."