Emily Pitek Clifford stood while the rest of the Alabama crowd watched as she began to chant in rhythm at the Women's College World Series as the Crimson Tide played Tennessee. By the end of her second chant, the entire Alabama softball contingent was standing and chanting with her in harmony on the third base side of the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
If anyone didn't know after that, Clifford, 26, leads Alabama faithful in Tide softball fandom. She's hard to miss in crimson and white overalls, red sunglasses and a bright pink sombrero.
But why a pink sombrero?
“Actually, it started with Alabama gymnastics when we beat Florida,” Clifford said. “When we played Stanford in the Super Regionals, many years ago, we were losing and I ran to my car and I got this hat and we won the Super Regionals.
“It's my good luck rally cap. I don't take it off.”
Her allegiance has not waned.
“I've been doing this eight years,” Clifford said. “We've been at this a long time. We're seasoned vets.”
Other coaches know who she is and seek her out. Alabama fans and players love her. She leads Tide fans in cheers and has even put on a cheering clinic for the players' parents, combining many loud voices into a powerful Roll Tide choir that includes garden gnomes.
“This year we've had the luxury of being joined by the gnomes,” Clifford said. “The gnomes decided to pop out of the garden and come to Alabama softball games.”
The gnomes are in fact 20-year-old Naples, Fla., native Jordan Leach and 22-year-old Eugene, Ore., native David Berney. They are the boyfriends of Alabama junior Kayla Braud and sophomore Ryan Iamurri. The men have Braud and Iamurri to thank for their uniforms.
“They made the outfits, and we decided to wear them,” Berney said.
Leach and Berney began attending Tide softball games as gnomes — complete with silver and red dunce caps, red vests and gnome buttons — at the 2012 Tuscaloosa Super Regional. The outfits have been a hit with Tide fans and opposing teams' fans alike as has Clifford's energy.
“I've been told other teams wished they had somebody like us,” she said.
“Us” also includes 24-year-old Alabama grad student Drew Hawk, who joined forces with Clifford five years ago at an Alabama softball game. Why? Because she looked like she was having fun.
He began wearing a sombrero and brought the idea of adding crimson and white striped overalls to the look and, at one time, wearing bicycle helmets to games.
“We wore bike helmets at one game against Washington and were called the Helmet Hecklers,” Hawk said. “We're all about being loud, being proud and distracting them and getting in their heads.”
Clifford said she loves traveling to softball games and attends every home game she can. Her love for the team is only rivaled by the strength of her voice.
“It's all about distracting them and having fun,” she said.