This post first appeared on March 9, 2016.
Every year, winter-weary people wonder why God didn’t ban March long ago. March lasts for years in the Midwest.
Still, we survive, even thrive. Why?
Two words: tourney time.
Outsiders term our annual basketball obsession “March Madness.” We call it “March Magic.”
Six decades ago, I experienced my first taste of it in a rural elementary gymnasium packed to the rafters. The fans amazed me more than the skinny eighth-grade team. Upstanding grown-ups shrieked from bleachers like outraged crows. Teachers popped up and down, much more fun at games than in the classroom! At halftime, I exchanged my nickel for Beech-Nut Fruit Stripe gum. I chewed all five flavors at once.
None of these, however, compared with the games’ true marvel: referees. A bleat of their whistles, and players and fans alike stopped in their tracks. Even our school principal, a first cousin of God, stood at attention.
One referee power outshone them all: with upraised fingers, these omnipotent beings could change the scoreboard.
Though I tried to “score” points for my team, the Taylorsville Bears, holding up two fingers, I didn’t possess the magic.
Gradually, my awe of the game outgrew my wonder at the referees. Their movements paled compared to the raw poetry of farm kids running, guarding, shooting a ball into a basket with awkward grace.
One year, our center, a six-foot reincarnation of James Dean, kept my eye all season. With the rest of the lovestruck cheer block, I shrieked, “2-4-6-8, who do we appreciate? David!” The pretty cheerleaders definitely appreciated David more than the coach.
That year, when county tourney time arrived, the Taylorsville Bears were the team to beat.
In the early afternoon, Taylorsville defeated Wayne. Our evil archrivals, Rock Creek, pounded on Petersville. Anyone who has experienced small-town basketball can write the script that evening: the hats-off-hands-over-hearts moment of thin civility during the national anthem. The Coliseum roar of a crowd segregated by school colors. The wild choreography of young bodies driving, diving, shooting the basketball. The blast of songs by a Bobble-headed band. The final screams of winners, accompanied by popcorn confetti as fans stormed the court.
Of course, we won. Do you think I’d write this if Rock Creek had beat us?
March Magic persists, yet consolidation and categorization have changed sports scenery. The sacred barn-like 1920s gymnasium, where I watched my first tourney game, disappeared years ago. Fruit Stripe gum can be ordered on the Internet — for more than a nickel.
While I still love basketball, I don’t get carried away. When March Magic tugs at me, I wouldn’t think of trying to up my team’s score by raising two fingers.
Now I raise three.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you give in to March Madness? Or, like this little soccer fan, do you invest your sports craziness elsewhere?