The Valley has two reasons to celebrate March Madness: The Fresno State Bulldogs are in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament for the first time in 15 years, and the Fresno Grizzlies and The Bee are partnering on the second annual Fresno Famous tournament.
The Fresno Famous tournament pits 64 central San Joaquin Valley natives (and those with Valley connections) in head-to-head celebrity matchups over the next four weeks – the Valley’s version of March Madness.
Fan voting will determine the winners, with the bracket whittling from 64 to the championship, just like the NCAA Tournament.
Voting begins noon Monday, March 14 and runs through April 7. There is a set voting period for each round.
Last year’s winner, NBA center and San Joaquin Memorial High School alumnus Robin Lopez, will not “defend” his title, so it’s certain there will be a new celebrity honored this year.
The brackets feature former Fresno State Bulldogs and sports stars (including Robin’s twin brother, Brook Lopez of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets) plus broadcasters, journalists and pop-culture icons.
There are serious contenders (Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, literary giant William Saroyan) thrown in with some tongue-in-cheek entries like downtown Fresno’s most famous dog, Peeve.
And there is a little mischief in the bracketing – for instance, pitting The Bee’s Rory Appleton against his dad, KMJ’s Ray Appleton.
“This is one more indication that the Grizzlies experience is about having fun, and the Fresno Famous tournament celebrates our region in a very creative way,” says Fresno Bee Executive Editor Jim Boren. The Bee, which owns the trademark Fresno Famous, is partnering with the Grizzlies for the competition.
Lopez was honored with his own bobblehead, given away to the first 1,500 fans who attended the theme-night game last Aug. 22. This year, the champion will be celebrated with a themed jersey that will be worn in the Friday, May 27, game against Colorado Springs at Chukchansi Park.
The Grizzlies have become known for their creative theme-night jerseys, including last year’s Fresno Tacos jersey and a “Three Amigos”-themed jersey that was recently featured in Sports Illustrated.
“We love that people expect the Grizzlies to produce jerseys that get a ton of love not only in Fresno, but nationwide,” says Sam Hansen, the Grizzlies’ marketing director.
The Grizzlies will be looking for input from the winning celebrity on the jersey design. Fans can bid on the game-worn jerseys in a silent auction during the game, with proceeds going to a charity of the celebrity’s choice.
Voting will be online at FresnoGrizzlies.com.