If you have ever attended an NU men’s or women’s basketball game, you are probably familiar with the couple that sits behind the opposing team bench, Tom and Doreen. If these names don’t sound familiar, maybe thinking of them as the couple who dances in the bleachers to “Sweet Caroline” at every game might ring a bell!
For those who have never attended a game, or just cannot picture what I am referencing, there is an older season ticket-holding couple who stands up in the bleachers every time that “Sweet Caroline” is played at a game, and dances together until the timeout is over. Students’ Snapchat stories and chatter throughout the gym are always about this sweet couple who never miss a game or a chance to show off both their moves and their love for each other.
Tom and Doreen have become Niagara icons. Everyone looks forward to seeing in the Gallagher Center, so I wanted to take the chance to get to know them better and share their story with all of their fans.
I recently met with Tom and Doreen in Alumni Chapel, where the couple spends time six days a week, as they explained to me. While most students recognize them from their dancing theatrics, they are actually most connected to Niagara University through their connection to the chapel and their work with Campus Ministry.
Tom is 78 and Doreen will be 74 this month, and both are retired. To stay busy and active in their retirement, Tom and Doreen would often walk around campus on nice days. Doreen told me that “something drew us here.”
During their walks, they got to know the Campus Safety officers, some students and, after wandering into the chapel one day, they fell in love with the peace the building offered. They eventually became parishioners in the ‘90s when their previous parish closed, and their involvement with the church has increased ever since.
They volunteer at the chapel six days a week, coming early on Sundays to set up, preparing for and assisting at the daily Masses, and helping out in any way that they can. During Mass, Doreen serves as a lector and Eucharistic minister, and Tom is an altar server from time to time. They also help at baptisms and funerals, set up flowers for special Masses and assist with hospitality days.
During the rest of the week, Tom and Doreen take inventory, tell the office when to order more hosts and wine, polish the candl, and do other odd jobs around the chapel as needed. When they know that Father O’Malley will be saying Mass, they even get his robes and book ready and set up for him.
Tom and Doreen said their proudest project was when they spent about four months refurbishing the Stations of the Cross. They explained to me that the stations had turned completely black after not having been revamped in 40 years. They restored the original colors and brought back details that had been completely lost.
Tom also shared with me that one day, when the couple was working on the stations, a dove came into the chapel through the back door and sat on the stoop just inside the door while they worked. Tom says he believes that it was the Holy Spirit dropping in to check on them.
Tom and Doreen’s efforts are noticed and appreciated by many. They have formed friendships with the priests, they help manage the office and they keep the chapel looking clean and beautiful. They said that they love being able to be grandma and grandpa to the students, and Tom especially loves giving hugs. Between their involvement with the chapel and their love for Niagara basketball, Tom remarked that they have become “permanent fixtures.”
Of course, we could not finish our conversation without hearing their story behind “Sweet Caroline.” The couple started getting season tickets in 2005 for the men’s games and, after a few years, they became season ticket holders for the women’s games as well.
Doreen explained to me that the dancing started before Coach Casey was here, because the song “Sweet Caroline” only played when the men would win a game at home. They would dance to celebrate the win, and people started to notice and remember right from the beginning. As time went on, the dance became a tradition, and Tom and Doreen have become accustomed to people approaching them before the games and asking them if they are going to dance.
Now, the song plays at every men’s and women’s game, and Doreen explained that she has a hunch that it is because of them. Their dancing has become a tradition that warms everyone’s heart, and it brings a beautiful memory to the Gallagher Center gym.
Tom and Doreen are nearly campus celebrities now, and attendees look forward to watching their carefree performance during the games. Tom told me, “It makes us feel young.” I am sure that everyone who has watched them would agree!
Tom and Doreen have gotten to know so many of the players over the years, sometimes even having them over to their home for dinner. A few years ago, Tom asked one of the players to save him aside a pair of tickets, and when he went to pick them up, the tickets were reserved under “Grandma and Grandpa.”
Years ago, the couple was even given the nickname “TD” by player Tony Nelson. He told them it stood for “touchdown,” but Doreen told me that she knows it really means Tom and Doreen.
My favorite anecdote that they shared with me about their relationship with the players was that there was once a group of players that asked Tom if he would make them wooden crosses with rosary beads. Tom was more than happy to do it, and he even started to make special rosaries for when the players graduated, with purple beads and “NU,” their graduation year, and their jersey numbers on the back of the cross. He said that these gifts meant a lot to the players, and Tom was so happy to make them.