On a Sunday afternoon in March, as I write this column, I am sitting on my couch, laptop in hand, and my television tuned to the NCAA basketball tournament. That’s not an unusual occurrence during the past week; I have been tuned in to many basketball games. In fact, just today, this is the third game that I have watched. The first being a NIT game featuring the Fighting Illini from the University of Illinois.
I am kind of a basketball nut. I think it partially stems from my youth. I graduated from Tiskilwa High School (many years ago) and attended that school during a time of some pretty good basketball teams. Coach Prusator could take a group of boys, some with a good amount of talent and some just small town and country boys who were willing to work hard and were instilled by him and their parents with the idea that hard work could make you a winner. It was a great time, and the original March Madness of Illinois high school basketball was a big part of those years.
Anyway, my love of basketball continues today. “March Madness” of the NCAA tournament is one of my favorite times of the year. I enjoy every aspect of the games. But, I really enjoy watching the underdog; Cinderella teams send some of the powerhouse college basketball teams home in the early rounds of the tournament.
This year sending big schools home has been a pretty common occurrence. I enjoyed all of those outcomes.
There are a wide variety of dynamics that contribute to the college basketball games. Unfortunately, there are announcers from whatever network I happen to be watching. I am not a big fan of that facet of the game. I like for announcers to be impartial, and too many of them seem to pick favorites; that makes me turn the volume to mute and just watch the game without the interference of their voices. Sorry, all you local sports announcers out there — I’m not talking about you — I am speaking of national announcers who pick favorites and talk a little too much for my taste.
So, we have the announcers; then we have the pep band. I love the pep band! As a former band member myself, I love listening to the songs that every pep bands play. If you have ever been to any basketball game, you know what I mean. During one of the games I recently watched, the tuba players were spinning in circles. I pointed them out to my 5-year-old grandson. He was so impressed, saying that he plans to play the tuba when he grows up. I think he liked the idea of spinning.
Then there are the fans. The fans are crazy and inspiring. Some of them travel for long distances to support their favorite team. They show up at games decked out in the school colors, and many of them stand through the games, only taking a break to sit at halftime. Their passion for their particular school is pretty amazing. I watched a young boy, probably 12 or 13, with tears on his face as his beloved Jayhawks were going down in defeat. That boy would probably never let someone see him cry except when it came to the love of his team.
As most of you probably know, the NCAA basketball tournament is made up of 64 teams from around the United States. There are numerous teams that are included in the action because of winning their conference tournament. These “automatic bids” are joined by “at-large bids” that are made by a committee. The automatic bids are what makes the tournament so interesting and special. These automatic bids come from large and small conferences, and then essentially the big boys play the little boys in the opening rounds.
As I said, I tend to pick the underdogs as my favorites, and I love some of those schools, teams and their names. This year there were the Dayton “Flyers,” the Eastern Kentucky “Colonels,” the Stephen F. Austin “Lumberjacks” and the Wichita State “Shockers.” Of course, the tournament of 2014 would not have been complete without the Albany “Great Danes.” Those Great Danes came out in their purple and gold uniforms with the front of their pants purple and the back gold. The young men wore them proudly. Then there were the Baylor “Bears,” not an unusual participant in the tournament, but they arrived in their lime green uniforms with bright blue shoes. You couldn’t miss them!
By the time this column is printed, the tournament for 2014 will probably be over and a national champion will have been crowned. And, I, well, I will have the memories and the promise of next year when a new group of special teams will make their way through this annual event called “madness.”
Nita Wyatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.