Andrew Wynne, Robert Sharp, Joost Charlow and Ike Newman, four loyal sports fans from the University of Pennsylvania, attended every home basketball game and started a new tradition during the 2011-12 season, giving a new meaning to “body art.”
For most major games, the foursome showcased their Penn pride with a little Crayola water-based body paint and partial nudity.
While there isn’t an official name for the group of painted fans, they are an unofficial subsidiary of the Red and Blue Crew, a massive army of Penn Quaker fans stationed in Section 119 at the Palestra.
As a kid in Cherry Hill, N.J., Andrew Wynne, a senior majoring in economics and political science, played basketball in recreational leagues and loved watching the Philadelphia 76ers on television. Growing up, he always wanted to paint himself at sporting events.
“Painting yourself is the easiest way to make clear your love and support,” Wynne says.
At Penn, Wynne discovered a love of college basketball and historic sports arenas. He also learned to appreciate having a legitimate reason for yelling at others.
Wynne says the red paint is especially stubborn when it comes time to washing it off.
“Usually, it takes me 30 minutes in the shower, and I still miss a lot,” Wynne adds. “It sometimes takes a week for it to be fully gone.”
Robert Sharp, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s in math and economics, concurs. While at Penn, Sharp helped pioneer the tradition of creating a painted, shirtless frenzy for fans cheering at Quaker basketball games.
“I always found the red paint really hard to wash off,” Sharp says. “It would leave a subtle hue on my skin for a day or two, despite my vigorous scrubbing. Maybe that’s just because I’m so pale.”
Fellow alum Ike Newman believes the Quakers’ performance also played a role in how difficult the body paint was to remove.
“I think it was always harder to wash off after a loss,” Newman says. “I would stand under the water for five minutes to get the majority of the paint off. Then it took two rounds of body wash.”
Newman, a Monmouth, N.J.-native who majored in math and economics in the Penn Class of 2012, has always been a huge basketball fan and says the aftermath of paint removal can be as traumatic as an episode of a weekly crime drama series, like “CSI” or “Law & Order.”
“The bottom of your shower looks like a Smurf murder scene, with all the blue and red rings,” Newman recalls.
Raised in Manhattan, he’s been a die-hard New York Knicks fan since birth. The native New Yorker claims it only takes him 20 minutes to take all of the paint off. His post-game paint-removal ritual involves a long, hot shower.
“We wanted to do something other than just wearing a Penn shirt,” Charlow says. “People ‘painting up’ for games is an image that I associate with the major college basketball teams, like Duke University, and it was another way for us to get other people excited for games.”
The four always painted up for Big 5 games. Typically, each donning a respective letter to spell out PENN.
“As big games approached, there was a mutual understanding that we would show shameless support by going shirts off and painting up,” Sharp says. “Our motivation was largely competitive; we wanted to be the best, most passionate fans.”
Sharp’s long history of cheering for Penn basketball started with his mom, who was a member of the Penn Band nearly 40 years ago. Growing up in York, Pa., he heard her tales of undefeated Quakers.
The stories came to life for him when in the sixth grade his mom took him to a Penn-Princeton game. The magic of college basketball has stayed with him ever since.
“The Palestra was packed and deafening,” Sharp recalls. “The students were hilarious, especially to an 11-year-old who couldn’t conceive of saying ‘you suck!’ around his parents. The overall atmosphere before and after the game was electrifying.”
“People really like it. It pumps up the crowd,” Newman says. “Running from the Quad to the Palestra, painted and screaming, got me in the mindset for the game and it got people excited to be heading to the game.”
These four say that, if one of them is unable to paint himself for the game, there is a long line of alternate super fans who are ready to go topless and paint up.
Sharp says that only the most dedicated Quaker basketball fans are properly qualified to be a Penn painter. Unbridled enthusiasm and a taste for exhibitionism are the basic prerequisites. A substitute squad member must be dedicated to staying for the entire game and must maintain a high level of energy.
“Ideally, the lettered fans would join in on all the chanting, taunting, jumping, freaking out after big plays,” Sharp explains. “If you say, ‘Sure, I’ll sacrifice my reputation and display my painted face (and body) in front of thousands of people,’ you’re probably a good fit for the job.”
Sharp says the next generation of Penn painters are incredibly dedicated and doing great things for Penn Athletics, as well as its student engagement.
“This tradition will only continue to grow,” he says.
When Wynne graduates in May, Charlow plans to keep the dream alive.
“Hopefully, when I’m gone, others in the Red and Blue Crew will step in and paint up,” he says.
Joshua A. Craggs, the director of marketing and new media for Penn Athletics and the Penn Relays, says every student is a member of the Red and Blue Crew.
It “isn’t an exclusive club,” Craggs says. “These are the people who love Penn Athletics and want to support their fellow students.”
He encourages everyone to come out to games and be a part of the fun, even if one is reluctant to wear body paint.
The first basketball game of the season pits the Penn Quakers against the Temple Owls at The Palestra on Saturday, Nov. 9.