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The Eastern Echo Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Print Archive
The Eastern Echo

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The Great Vannzee; the story of EMU Sports' superfan and celebrity

Dedication towards that one something in your life can really pay off if you do it right. Whether you put a lot of your time and effort into work, school, your family, whatever it may be, the results will show. We've all been taught that lesson at some point. 

Born in southeastern Michigan, Ann Arbor, Zack VanNieuwenhze grew up in Blissfield and attended Blissfield High School where he played and enjoyed lots of sports. 

“I was always that kid that was the bat boy or the waterboy for the varsity teams,” VanNieuwenhze said. 

After high school, while VanNieuwenhze was in community college, he discovered that school may not be the right route for him. So, he decided to explore a different avenue and began working in a factory in Dexter. 

Quickly, VanNieuwenhze realized he had made a mistake and wanted something bigger for himself. He decided that he would return to school and enroll at Eastern Michigan University to earn his college degree. 

“I decided that if I was going to go to a four-year university, I was going to do it right by choosing a division one school,” VanNieuwenhze said. “With EMU being close to Dexter, I would work and then attend night classes.” 

Once VanNieuwenhze finally settled into campus, his love for the school and the athletics grew strong. Arriving in 2016, it was perfect timing as the EMU football team was headed to its first bowl game since 1987. 

As the Eagles were winning on the field, VanNieuwenhze wanted to make his college experience one that was filled with dedication to the school that he represented. 

“I wanted to go to every sporting event I could go to. Being a commuter student, I wanted to make sure I still got the experience,” VanNieuwenhze said. “I didn't want to say no to anything.” 

Since then, the Eagles have achieved six bowl game berths, while capping off its best season since 1987 as they captured a Famous Idaho Potato Bowl game win in 2022. 

Through those years, VanNieuwenhze would use the social media platform Twitter to send out trivia and factoids, and share the stories of the athletes and entities a part of the EMU athletics world. That’s when the steam started to pick up, donning the nickname ‘Vannzee.’ 

“I knew it was a big deal once I reached 500 followers,” VanNieuwenhze said. “Next thing I knew, I was at 1,000, and it just kept growing.” 

One year while VanNieuwenhze was enjoying an EMU basketball game, former Eagle Tim Bond threw down a thunderous dunk that would catch some attention. VanNieuwenhze quickly navigated to Twitter and tweeted, “Tim Bond out here making posters.” 

He would add in the hashtag “#SCTOP10.” The tweet would gain national attention as ESPN’s Sportscenter featured the tweet on live television while showing the highlight. 

@EMUAthletics Tim Bond out here making posters #SCtop10

“I woke up the next morning and had all of these voicemails and Snapchats,” VanNieuwenhze said. “That was cool seeing Tim and EMU get their moment, while it was also surreal seeing my name on there.” 

The name Vannzee was finally known around Ypsilanti. 

So much so that when VanNieuwenhze appears at tailgates and athletic events, fans, parents, and even players will stop him for pictures and conversations, and even provide him with food. 

“It kind of shocks me because I feel like thanking them. They do so much more for the University than me hitting a few buttons on a keyboard,” VanNieuwenhze said. “I quit bringing food to tailgates because I never ate my own food.”

Through it all, it hasn’t just been a one-man show for VanNieuwenhze. 

Jack VanNieuwenhze, Vannzee’s father, has been by his side since the beginning. What once was joining Vannzee while he was a student and sitting next to the student section for games turned into a tradition of him and his son going to every home football game together to this day. 

“When I was a student there, we would get a season ticket for him, and he would sit right next to the student section,” VanNieuwenhze said. “Now, sometimes it's too cold or wet for him, but he’ll still join me. It’s hard to keep him away.” 

Being a single father and raising Vannzee on his own, the bond between the two has been unbreakable. 

“It’s always been me and him. When I was a commuter student, I didn’t know anybody, so I would usually be myself,” VanNieuwenhze said. “It makes it more enjoyable as it’s almost a shared experience. There’s nobody else I would rather share it with.” 

The dedication to the athletics at EMU isn’t a front for VanNieuwenhze. As he sits at 2.3K followers on X, formerly known as Twitter, whether people paid attention to his social media presence or not, he’d still be repping the Eagles in the same way.

“Even if I didn’t have the followers that I have right now, I’d still be in the stands and at all the games, cheering the same way,” VanNieuwenhze said. “It’s become a second job and passion of mine.”