Jim Malfregeot's air raid siren announces that it's almost time for the Mountaineer football team's procession through tailgaters before every home game.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A piercing siren amped up the game day atmosphere outside Mountaineer Field on Saturday.Inspired by WVU quarterback Geno Smith's explosive pass offense, which sportscasters nicknamed "Air Raid," longtime Mountaineer fan Jim Malfregeot cranked up an antique air raid siren from a knoll above the stadium.An athletic department staff member requested that he release the distinctive wail about 10 minutes before the "Mantrip," in which the team makes its entrance through the parking lot into the stadium for warmups. They walk a path through cheering fans and then touch a giant hunk of coal at the stadium's entrance for good luck.The air raid siren alerts the fans that the walk is about to begin."This is just the second year for the Mantrip and it's already a tradition. Thousands of people head over to it," said Malfregeot, who has an excellent vantage point from his tailgate spot on a knoll above the stadium. "The siren will probably become a tradition. When it goes off, people start cheering and clapping and pointing at it."Malfregeot, of Clarksburg, estimates that the sound travels 400 to 500 yards, which doesn't project all the way across the Blue Lot. It's plenty loud enough for those around him and all the fans who walk over and ask to crank the handle. None of his neighbors seemed annoyed by the sound.He initially hoped that the siren would be positioned in the stadium along the end zone and even discussed that plan with WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck when he ran into him at a charity golf outing. Luck told Malfregeot that someone from his office would be in touch with him. Assistant Athletic Director Matt Wells called."He said he didn't know what Oliver Luck and I discussed, but here's what they wanted," said Malfregeot of his game day assignment in the parking lot. A recording of an air raid siren is played over the stadium's public address system after big passing plays. Malfregeot concedes that the recording sounds pretty good.When he heads into the stadium, Malfregeot locks the siren, mounted on a specially made stand, into his van. After Saturday's game, he returned it to its pre-game position where lots of happy fans cranked up in celebration of Smith's 323 passing yards in a win over Marshall University.
The siren was made in 1938 and was used in World War II. The finish is a little chipped, but a twist of the wooden handle still produces that distinctive air raid-siren sound. It sits on a sturdy wooden stand that Malfregeot's wife, Brenda, who is a graphic artist, painted blue and gold.Malfregeot thinks the idea of sounding a siren at his tailgates might have come to him based on the war movies he watched as a young boy. "The jeeps always had hand-cranked air raid sirens on the front. When an air attack was coming, the soldiers would jump out of the jeeps and crank up the sirens as a warning," he said.He first thought of purchasing a siren earlier this year and found an antique one on eBay. He waited until the last day of bidding in an effort to avoid upping the winning price. He didn't wait quite long enough. He and his wife were heading out for a picnic. She urged him out the door, but he stayed online and bid for an hour."I got into a bidding war with some other guy. I got out," he said. "My wife said he wanted it more because he probably wanted it for aesthetic reasons, and I just wanted to take it to football games."Back online, he found another one on eBay and submitted a winning bid of $300. "My wife couldn't believe I paid $300 for it. I told her there was another one on there listed for $700."The cost is a drop in the bucket of Mountaineer-related purchases that Malfregeot has made through his lifetime as a Mountaineer fan. He hasn't missed a home game since 1998, when he purchased the 40-yard-line seats he still uses.
Malfregeot and his siren will be in their appointed spot for the next home game Sept. 22 against the University of Maryland. Game time hasn't been announced, but Malfregeot will crank up his siren 10 minutes before the Mantrip."Every game, I'll be ready. They'll know what's coming," he said.Reach Julie Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1230.