‘I don’t know any person who has a greater love for this school’

Josh Oyler, above, runs along the sideline with his flag during a men’s basketball game in February 2008, his senior year. The NCAA later enacted a rule banning fans from running down the sideline during games. His family calls it the “Josh Rule.” Photo courtesy of Andrew Towell.

It wasn’t unusual for Josh Oyler to go on long, uninterrupted walks. Each stride was taken in silence — an opportunity to search for something. Something to straighten out the confusion, expunge the dark, haunting stains.

But this walk was different.

When the six-foot-three sophomore with Jimmy Neutron hair stepped outside of Ashton Hall in the fall of 2005, there would be no guarantee he would ever return. He walked along the canal, like hundreds of Seattle Pacific students before him, but didn’t stop.

Across the Fremont Bridge, through Fremont, to the Ballard Bridge. He coolly placed his hands on the metal railing and peered over the ledge, to the darkened abyss 60 feet below.

“Should I jump?” he thought.

He didn’t jump — but why? What is the reason that kept him alive during those severe battles with depression? It is simple, he says:

“The Orangesuit.”

Seattle Pacific University has been around since 1891, when the Free Methodist Church established the Seattle Seminary. The founders planted a collection of shade trees near the seminary’s brick building, which grew as the archaic heartstrings of campus.

Over a century later, the university sits on the same green slope of Queen Anne Hill, and thousands of students have made their way under the shade of the trees. If the trees could speak, there is little doubt they would say there was a student who had more SPU pride than Josh Oyler, a 2009 graduate.

His parents, also former SPU students, met on a “roomies date,” in which his mother’s roommate asked out his dad on a blind date on his mom’s behalf. She lived in Moyer; he lived in Ashton. She got a scholarship for track and field; he played on the club baseball team and competed in crew.

His grandfather, Ken Moore, taught biology at SPU 1975–2007. Oyler would often hang out in the classroom, completely enamored by the aura of college students.

“I can remember coming to campus and sitting in grandpa’s class,” Oyler says. “I did that quite a bit growing up just because I idolized the college students and wanted to be part of that world.”

While Oyler enjoyed going to his grandpa’s classroom, it didn’t compare to the joy of SPU basketball games. His grandparents had season tickets, so a few times a month he would go from Issaquah to Royal Brougham Pavilion.

Specifically, he was drawn to the Orangemen, a rambunctious platoon of college guys in orange, unwashed jumpsuits, who stood along the sideline and served double duty as cheerleaders and hecklers at every men’s basketball game.

“We would bring him to the games, and he enjoyed basketball, but he was infatuated with the enthusiasm [of the Orangemen],” Moore says. “That was his goal. The Orangemen excited him.”

For over a decade, Oyler waited for the moment he could join them.

“I always enjoyed watching them,” Oyler recalls, while sitting in the Falcon Lounge, perched above the gym floor in Royal Brougham. “I admired their passion for SPU.  Seeing them like that really put fire in my heart to be one.”

According to Orangemen lore, about 25 years ago a group of guys living on Sixth West Ashton showed up shirtless to a men’s basketball game but were turned away by the administration. As a result, they showed up to the next game in orange jumpsuits. Some say the jumpsuits signaled they were SPU’s prisoners.

“No one really knows,” says sophomore Andrew Davies, a current Orangeman. “I kind of like not knowing and thinking we are part of this old, archaic tradition that we have the privilege to be a part of.”

To be an Orangeman, one must be a resident of Sixth West Ashton and earn the suit through a series of memorable yet completely off‑the‑record traditions.

For the vast majority of Orangemen, it is luck of the draw — they are randomly placed on that floor. For Oyler, there was no alternative. On the housing application, Oyler wrote:

“Please, I need to live on Sixth West.”

In November 2003, Oyler sent in his student application. It was the first day of the Early Action window — the earlier the application is received, the earlier he could apply for housing. The first step was getting the acceptance letter. After that, though, came the much more important letter for him: housing assignment.

“When I got the letter I almost shit my pants,” Oyler says, smiling. “It was so exciting.”

By September, the floor was his official residence. After ceremoniously receiving his suit (the final phase of the hush-hush traditions), Oyler finally zipped himself up in one of the smelly suits.

“I’ve waited 18 years for this, and I am finally here — I need to do it as long as I can.”

He stuck to his word — Oyler was the last Orangeman to ever live all four undergraduate years on the floor.

For the Orangemen, there is more to each costume than just a jumpsuit. Enigmas are spawned and characters are developed each time the crew suits up. Creepy masks, funny hats, stunner shades and lucky T-shirts are all examples of additional game costumes. Under the jumpsuit, Oyler wore his dad’s SPU baseball jersey and two of his dad’s SPU crew shirts, plus an old SPU bandana on his head.

Oyler wore the same outfit with his Orangesuit for each game and always stood on the end. Photo courtesy of Andrew Towell.

“I wanted to go onto the court full throttle every time,” Oyler says. “I came at it like, ‘This has been my whole life. I am going to own this.’ ”

For Oyler, each game was a battle. The suit was his armor; the aspirin and water were his morphine. He stood along the sideline at the base of the student section with his fellow orange soldiers. Regardless of the game’s situation, Oyler clapped and screamed. And clapped and screamed. And when his hands hurt and throat burned, he clapped and screamed some more. He never left the gym with an audible voice.

“It became his identity — Josh was the Orangeman,” says Jessie Christensen, former SPU women’s basketball player and current marketing and events coordinator. “He grew up wanting to be an Orangeman, then he became the most dedicated one, and it became a part of him, and it will always be a part of him.”

For Oyler, that description means nothing more than “mission accomplished.”

“That was my legacy,” Oyler says. “That’s what I wanted to be known for. That’s who I wanted to be remembered as.”

By the end of his freshman year, Oyler had the outfit, commitment and passion, but he was missing one part in order to fulfill that legacy. He found it tucked away in a deep chasm of Royal Brougham.

While working as a student trainer, Oyler often had to do miscellaneous tasks in Royal Brougham’s equipment room, fittingly known as “The Cage.” One day he stumbled upon something that piqued his interest:  a maroon flag around a pole. It was in pristine condition with “SPU” stitched in large, mustard yellow lettering. A grin stretched across his face.

“Well this is going home with me…  I need this.”

With the addition of the flag, Oyler’s Orangeman outfit was complete. Soon after the flag made its game debut, the Orangemen created a tunnel for the team’s entrance onto the court. Oyler led the brigade — he sprinted through the tunnel and made his way around entire court with the flag held high.

Rituals with the flag also happened during the game. Every time the opposing team committed a turnover, Oyler would streak down the sideline. A few years into this tradition, the NCAA enacted a rule prohibiting fans from running down the sideline, citing safety concerns.

“We call that the ‘Josh Rule,’ ”  Moore chuckles.

Each time Oyler unzipped the suit and took off the SPU regalia, he stepped back into a harsh reality. Diagnosed with depression in fifth grade, Oyler was accustomed to struggling with his emotions. By his sophomore year at SPU, he found himself slipping into a deeper hole. The stresses of his father’s second divorce and his own academic performance had fully caught up to him.

He started to go on walks to help clear his mind. Other times, he would sit on the 6th West balcony in the middle of the night, overlooking the campus he loved. He would debate whether or not to end the pain, to take his final breath on the floor that meant everything to him.

“It felt right in a weird way,” Oyler recalls. “It felt like that’s the way it should be. This was my dream; now I am here, and I wasn’t planning for the future. I didn’t have anything to look forward to. But the Orangesuit. The games. The atmosphere. It’s what I lived for.”

Due to these suicidal thoughts, his SPU counselor decided Oyler needed to voluntarily commit himself to a psychiatric unit or else he would be expelled — the university couldn’t take the risk of him doing anything on campus.

It was a hard truth to accept.

“The place I love and cherish the most is casting me out because I was a danger to them, and the thought of being a danger [to SPU] devastated me,” Oyler remembers.

His sophomore year, Oyler dropped out of school for winter quarter and checked himself in at the University of Washington Medical Center, the hospital where he was born. He stayed there for two weeks.

There wasn’t a single basketball game during that two-week stretch. The day after he left the hospital, though, he was suited up and back in action.

“It was the best therapy,” he says. “On game days, nothing else mattered. Game days were my days.”

Soon after Oyler left the psych unit, he approached star basketball player Chad Williams in the training room. Oyler explained his situation to Williams and asked if it would be possible for Oyler to meet with the team. Williams obliged, and the Orangemen and team members gathered in the Falcon Lounge and ate Zeek’s Pizza. Oyler shared his story, giving thanks to the team that gave him hope to live.

“He was as loyal as they come, and we were very appreciative of him, but I remember him more for that meeting than anything else,” Williams says. “It meant a lot to us that he was comfortable enough to open up.”

Typically, juniors move out of the dorms and into on-campus apartments or off-campus housing. Considering his obsession for the floor, nobody was too surprised when Oyler opted to stay a third year. By the time Oyler was a senior, though, the general reaction was, “Wait, you’re still here?”

“It was my fourth different roommate, and I was the only senior on the floor,” Oyler says. “It’s a weird place to be. At this point I am now older than the [peer advisor] and I had been doing it longer than the PA. He still had jurisdiction over me, I just didn’t buy into it.”

Oyler built relationships with the other floor members despite the age difference. He felt relevant and felt like he fit in, especially on the basketball court, where he was the clear leader of the crew.

“Josh was the leader, yet he was a team member,” Moore says. “He was serious about getting in their face, but [he showed] you can be good sports about it… He was able to integrate all of that.”

 After four years of waving the flag, Oyler passed it down to the freshman who embodied the spirit of leading the Orangemen. It remains the most valuable and respected relic on the floor.

“He helped define who the Orangemen are; he brought out the unique character of the Orangemen,” Davies says. “His name and his stories are passed down each year, just like the flag.”

Sophomore Kyle Evans, center, was the flagbearer for the 2013-2014 basketball season. Oyler’s flag is passed down each year to the freshman who embodies the spirit of the floor. Photo by Andrew Haskell / THE FALCON

Sophomore Kyle Evans, center, was the flagbearer for the 2013-2014 basketball season. Oyler’s flag is passed down each year to the freshman who embodies the spirit of the floor.
Photo by Andrew Haskell / THE FALCON

After a childhood of anticipation and four years of execution, Oyler donned the Orangesuit for the final time in 2008. He left with no regrets …  except one. Due to a commitment to his orchestra class, Oyler missed two games during his freshman year. They ended up being the only home games he missed in all four years — including Christmas Break, where he was the lone solider in orange.

“At first it was intimidating because you’re the only one that’s yelling and completely investing yourself in the game,” Oyler says, reminiscing on those one-man shows during Christmas Break. “I am not someone who wanted to bring attention to myself as an individual, but it felt right.”

Oyler graduated with a degree in history in 2009 and worked in retail at Bellevue Square. By the next basketball season, he joined the game management staff to watch over the Orangemen.

“It’s a really special place to be,” Oyler says. “It excites me to be around them. A lot of the times I wish I could take that flag and hop right back into it.”

“He misses that part of his life, but he loves the new role he is stepping into as the Orangemen’s mentor,” Christensen says. “He loves building relationships with those guys and wants to make sure the tradition lives on with the same integrity, heart, spirit and pride that Josh had.”

At age 28, Josh Oyler serves as a moderator for the Orangemen at each home game. Photo by Andrew Haskell / THE FALCON

At age 28, Josh Oyler serves as a moderator for the Orangemen at each home game.
Photo by Andrew Haskell / THE FALCON

Oyler continues to seek counseling and has been on various medications, finally coming across one that works best.

“It feels good to not only feel well, but it’s encouraging to finally find something that does what it’s supposed to,” he says.

In addition to his part-time role with SPU Athletics, Oyler works full time at All the Best Pet Care in Redmond — a position he loves. He recently got a dog, Autumn, who comes to work with him and lives in an apartment in Issaquah.

“I have a steady job, I have insurance, I have a dog I am obsessed with — I’ve kicked the bad things in life,” Oyler says. “I have learned to accept things as a positive. I am doing really well right now.”

Oyler realizes he has come full circle. First, he was the wide-eyed kid decked out from head-to-toe in SPU gear, going to games with grandpa. Then he fulfilled his dream of being an Orangeman — the greatest one ever known. Now, at age 28, he serves as the “big brother,” the wise man of the tribe who hopes to keep the tradition alive.

“I don’t know any person who has a greater love for this school than he does,” Moore says.

“I know that I will never leave,” Oyler says. “It just depends for what capacity am I at. I know that I will never be far from SPU because of the impact it had on my life and the importance this place brings.”

He gets up from his chair and begins pacing around the Falcon Lounge. He peers into old trophy cases, filled with basketball memorabilia dating the past half-century. It was in this building where he found the flag. Slowly, he turns and looks out toward the court, where the fondest memories of his life have been made. He walks back across the lounge and takes a seat — the room where he shared his story with the team. The bond between him and the school is tangible.

“The guy that Ashton Hall was named after, Philip Ashton, was a student and ended up staying for over 50 years,” Oyler says. “That’s what I am after. My name will be on something around here — I don’t know what.”

Oyler, pictured here in 2008, began the tradition of leading the players through a tunnel.  Photo courtesy of Andrew Towell.

Oyler, pictured here in 2008, began the tradition of leading the players through a tunnel.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Towell.

Danny Ciaccio

Sports Editor Danny Ciaccio is a junior journalism major. He has been sports editor for The Falcon since March 2012. Danny is also a PR assistant for Sounders FC and the marketing intern for ROOT SPORTS. He plans on finishing school in March 2015 and is a projected first round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft.