by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER
Streetsboro -- Paul Chudzinski has been a Cleveland Browns football fan his entire life, so it only seemed natural for him to join the Streetsboro's Browns Backers Club during the past season.
"It's a lot of fun," he said.
Chudzinski was at Stringz & Wingz, the 'Boro Browns Backers' bar, before the start of the Browns' Sept. 27 game against the Baltimore Ravens.
"Everybody here has a hometown feeling no matter how bad the team plays," said Chudzinski, a former Streetsboro resident who lives in Malvern. "These Browns Backers are doing a lot. They're on the right track."
Chudzinski was there with his friend, Tracey Wheeler, a former Streetsboro resident who lives in Kent. Both wore their orange Browns Backers T-shirts, which have the words "Cleveland Browns" and an outline of a dog's face on the front.
"It's fun to be where there are other fans," Wheeler said.
As game time approached, more and more Browns Backers entered the facility. That pleased Fred Mathis, the club's president who started the group in November 2011.
The club has about 280 members, and Mathis wants to increase its size as much as possible.
"It is definitely one of the fastest growing Browns Backers clubs," he said. "The word is getting out about our club."
Michele DeScioli, manager of Browns Backers, agreed.
"For as new as it is, it has a lot of members," she said. "It's growing faster than I've ever seen a club grow."
DESCIOLI SAID there are 365 Browns Backers clubs worldwide, including a new one in Antarctica. There are clubs in all 50 states and more than 180 in Ohio.
DeScioli said the only requirement is it must be located at least 10 miles from an existing club.
Clubs are typically started by people who are huge Browns fans.
"I am one of the biggest Browns fans around," Mathis said. "We didn't have a place to watch the games, so I started the club. We yell and scream and have fun."
Mathis, who is owner-operator of a company that hauls oversized loads on roadways, grew up in Streetsboro and lives in Shalersville.
He is called "Fred the Prez," which are the words on the back of his Browns Backers T-shirt and hoodie.
He brought attention to the club at last summer's Streetsboro Family Days by putting Pittsburgh Steelers fans in football gear at a dunk tank, then allowing people to plunk them into the water by throwing balls at a target.
The club has attracted the attention of former Browns star cornerback Hanford Dixon, who regularly attends its events, according to Mathis.
"I like to keep everybody involved- they're like part of our family," Mathis said.
The group had 50 members in its first two weeks of existence and was picked by Browns Backers officials as the Browns Backers chapter of the month in February, "based on what [we] do for the community and how [we] represent your club," Mathis said.
For example, on Sept. 30, the group scheduled a fundraiser at Stringz & Wingz to fight Alzheimer's Disease.
MANY OF THE Browns Backers are longtime fans and remained optimistic despite the team's 0-5 start last season.
Mathis said he's been a Browns fan since 1976 when he was 6 years old. "My dad got me watching them," he said.
Chudzinski, who has been a fan long enough to remember the glory days of running backs Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly in the 1960s, likes the look of rookie running back Trent Richardson.
"He's got a lot of potential," he said.
Years ago, Chudzinski took his niece, Streetsboro's Barbara Rider-Miller, to Browns games. She was at the Sept. 27 Browns Backers event with other family members.
"I joined this year because I need the excitement," she said. "I've been a Browns fan for 40 years. Hopefully, they'll do something this year. They'd better quit being losers."
Her son, Streetsboro's Chris Masowick, a charter member of the 'Boro Browns Backers, was also at the Sept. 27 outing.
"I'm a Browns fan who lives in Streetsboro, so there's nothing better than this," he said.
His wife, Amber, and their daughter, Ellie, 4, were also on hand. All wore their Browns Backers shirts.
People can join the 'Boro Browns Backers for $20 and will receive a personalized T-shirt. They can sign up at Stringz & Wingz or online at www.brownsbackers.org. For more information, email Mathis at email@example.com.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187