At University of Virginia, 70-year-old undergrad Jerry Reid is just another student as he cheers the Cavaliers in March Madness...
Jerry Reid, right, is a fixture in the student section at basketball games. Dillon Harding/Virginia Athletics
Jerry Reid will graduate from the University of Virginia this spring with a résumé that would attract the attention of any potential employer.
Under extracurricular activities, Mr. Reid lists membership in a campus literary society, brotherhood in a fraternity and two intramural flag-football championships. His academic accomplishments include a thesis reinterpreting Stonewall Jackson's legacy. He counts rooting for Virginia's men's basketball team as his primary hobby.
Then there is his work experience: 45 years as a conveyor-belt salesman.
Mr. Reid is a senior who happens to be a senior citizen. "I'm having a major attack of senioritis," said the 70-year-old undergraduate.
In 2011, at age 66, Mr. Reid enrolled in Virginia's college of continuing studies, its equivalent of night school for adult students. Mr. Reid, who had never graduated from college, was still chasing his bachelor's degree. Now, as a septuagenarian, he's on track to walk the lawn in May as a college graduate.
But he seldom acts his age. Since enrolling in college, Mr. Reid has immersed himself in campus life, most visibly as a fixture in the student section at basketball games of the Cavaliers, who play Friday in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA men's tournament to continue their best season in years. Mr. Reid is the one in the orange wig and hard hat. "You can't miss Jerry," said Virginia Dean Billy Cannaday.
Jerry Reid in his rooting attire
Mr. Reid, who is older than not only 44-year-old Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett but also his three predecessors, was previously a season-ticket holder to Cavaliers games. He just has a better seat these days. As a devout member of the "Hoo Crew," the student section alongside the court, Mr. Reid rarely misses a game. Last year, after one momentous win, he was part of a student mob that stormed the court in celebration.
Wearing his wig over white hair, plus strips of eye black underneath his thin-rimmed glasses, Mr. Reid arrives as early as four hours before tip-off to secure his spot in the student section. He prefers the area behind the visiting team's bench reserved for the "most dedicated members of Hoo Crew," said 21-year-old Virginia senior Christine Pajewski.
It is also prime real estate for heckling. Mr. Reid stays on his feet throughout games, powered by a pregame hot chocolate with extra whipped cream, cheering the Cavaliers while politely jeering the referees. Even his younger classmates are impressed by his endurance. "He's one of the most passionate fans there is," said Hoo Crew President Haider Arshad, 21.
Mr. Reid doesn't let the team's road trips stop him from dressing up. For away games, he sometimes takes his wife, Susan, to a local bar called The Virginian. As a superstition, he makes sure he brings extra wigs and spare headgear, including a sparkly fedora. "If I can't be at the game," he says, "I'm still repping."
Mr. Reid was a Virginia fan decades before he was a Virginia student. In the 1960s, even though he wasn't in college, Mr. Reid regularly made the hourlong drive from Richmond to Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, to hang out with buddies at The Virginian. In his tweed jacket with suede elbow patches, Mr. Reid used to smoke a pipe and party with the Chi Phi fraternity, where he locked eyes in 1966 with the woman who would become his wife.
Once they married in 1969, Mr. Reid finally went to college, but he didn't last long. A "bearded and long-haired hippie," he says, Mr. Reid dropped out after two classes and instead began a career in industrial sales, along with sports writing and car racing, among other occupations.
On a business trip in 2009, Mr. Reid stopped by Virginia's campus, as he did whenever he was nearby. This time, Mr. Reid recalls, he sat alone in a garden and was overtaken by a magical feeling he can't quite describe. "At that moment," he says, "I had the resolve to get a degree from the University of Virginia."
Mr. Reid came home and told Mrs. Reid about his epiphany. "I didn't really see our lives going in that direction," she says. Yet she immediately supported his wild dream. Her only stipulations: She wouldn't live in a dormitory room, and he couldn't pledge a fraternity.
With her blessing, after a stint at local community college, he transferred to Virginia in 2011 and embraced his long-lost college experience, majoring in interdisciplinary studies. In addition to his Hoo Crew eminence, plus roles on intramural flag-football and softball teams, Mr. Reid was initiated into the Chi Phi fraternity without pledging. He and his wife live in a house about 15 minutes from campus.
He also joined the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, a club that once included Edgar Allan Poe and still meets every Friday night until the wee hours of the morning. "Jerry's there for nearly every meeting for nearly all the time," said Jefferson Society president McCulloch Cline.
While the students keep him young, Mr. Reid hasn't abandoned the oldies. Last week, on a night between Virginia's wins in the NCAA tournament, Mr. and Mrs. Reid attended a Jefferson Society black-tie bash and danced to the tunes of Doug Clark's Hot Nuts, a Motown band that jammed at Virginia parties in the 1960s and came recommended by Mr. Reid. He was the one who requested the band play "Shout," the song featured in the toga party in "Animal House."
"I don't think retirement was really for us," Mrs. Reid says.
After graduation, Mr. Reid said this week while puffing on a cigar, he plans to take some time to write a memoir. Then he might go back to school—again. Eventually, he has decided, he would like to work in student affairs at his alma mater. "I think I know what I want to be when I grow up," he said.