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March Madness Inside the Arena

When we bought tickets for Rounds 1 and 2 of the NCAA* Men’s Basketball Championship, Husband and I hoped to watch some of our favorite teams. At least one SEC* team and maybe the OVC* team would play in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena. And it’d be fun to watch Son’s favorite team, North Carolina. The sports analysts whetted our hopes. Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, #1 Virginia were all mentioned as possibilities in Nashville. So when the bracket was announced, I was disappointed.

I knew nothing about the eight teams, except Missouri which is in the SEC. I stretched a connection that Husband and I ate supper at Shakespeare’s Pizza adjacent to the University of Missouri and then strolled across the university campus.

I like March Madness* so I’d go, pick teams, and have a good time. Watching sports on TV isn’t nearly as fun as seeing live games and all that goes on in the stands, on the sidelines, on the court that cameras can’t take in.

If there had been a wear-your-colors contest, the Cincinnati Bearcat fans decked out in red would’ve won. Also they, led by a small group seated behind the team bench, were the loudest, especially shouting DE-FENSE. And they appreciated great plays. Even when an opposing team player dunked for two points, they joined everyone in the stands and stood with arms stretched high.

The Florida State coach was the most entertaining. Dressed in a navy nylon sports sweatshirt and white tennis shoes, he paced the sideline and worked as hard as his players. He kicked his leg waist high and threw punches in the air.

Cincinnati also won the Battle of the Bands, in my opinion. During a timeout of every game, the arena announcer challenged the school’s bands to “do your best!” As Cincinnati played “Rolling Down the River,” fans clapped to keep time.

Mascots could take lessons from Texas Hook ‘Em. He danced Nevada’s Alfie off the floor during the Mascot Dance Off.   While Alfie swayed his wolf tail, Hook ‘Em moonwalked. Then he hit the floor with the Gator and next did the splits. Alfie threw up his paws in defeat.

The announced attendance was 17, 552 and the best Texas fan was seated right behind me. His continuous calm monologue entertained. “Take the easy lane – down the middle.   It was worth a try – you’ll hit it next time. Get down, you gotta’ get on the floor and dirty sometimes. The ball don’t lie – it’ll go where you shoot it.”  Even when his team lost in overtime, he was upbeat. “What a game! Somebody’s gotta’ lose.”

Up next are the Sweet Sixteen games and I’ll watch on TV and cheer for the two teams that won in Nashville. Nevada, a come-from-behind-team and Florida State that led only once over top-seeded Xavier.  And I’ll wish I were there. There’s more than basketball games to take in.

*NCAA – National Collegiate Athletic Association

*SEC – Southeastern Conference

*OVC – Ohio Valley Conference

*March Madness – the annual college basketball tournament










Why play team sports?

It was the last game of the season. The last time this basketball season that I’d sit beside my Grand’s other grandmother and we’d chitchat about the five young children and their parents we both love. Our 11-year old Grand knocked the ball out of his opponent’s hands and dribbled down the court toward his team’s goal. “Oh, I hope he hits the shot,” I said.

David threw the ball high. It bounced off the backboard and swished through the net. His sister, two years younger, stood and cheered as if her brother had scored the winning basket in the NCAA* championship game. David and his teammates ran back to the other end of the court to play defense. My Grand looked over his left shoulder and pointed to a teammate to move closer to the goal.

What was in the article I’d read a few days before? A list of the benefits of team sports. Confidence building. David had gained the confidence to steal the ball and risk dribbling for a layup. Something he didn’t do during the first games of the season.

Connect with his teammates. Were David and others in position on the court to play defense? On offense they signaled with nods and hand pointing. Sometimes they connected and successfully scored. Sometimes a pass went out of bounds.

Encourages family involvement. My Grand’s family – parents, grandparents, siblings – came together to support his team. To cheer the team on. To celebrate good plays and wins. To commiserate mistakes and losses.

Provides physical exercise. Practices with the team.   At home, shooting baskets and dribbling and playing pick-up with parents and siblings.

Develops relationships. With players and coaches. Children can form friendships as teammates that carry into adulthood.  And a coach, whether volunteer or paid, is always known as “coach.”

Contributes to stronger academics. It has been documented that children who play team sports are likely to excel in academics. Why? Do they learn to manage time? Are they required to achieve an academic standard to participate in sports?

Teaches respect. Respect for people of authority: referees, umpires, coaches. When the referee blows the whistle and calls a foul on a player, there’s no arguing with his call.   Respect for other players. The game ends. These young 5th and 6th grade boys form two single file lines. Opponents walk past each other with their hands in the air. High-fives just like those of basketball players in high stakes games.

I love team sports. I’ve watched my Grand grow as a ball player, as a person, from game one to the final game. And since he’s learned more about basketball, it’ll be more fun to watch televised games with him. Just in time for my favorite sports month!

Together we’ll take in March Madness, a whole month of NCAA basketball. And think of those college players’ rewards. Team players reap benefits and learn, even when they are no longer children.

*National Collegiate Athletic Association












Make a Successful Adult

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 3.48.06 PMSometimes I hear something that strikes my heart and that happened at the WCTE/PBS Annual Dinner last week. Tara Brown, known as The Connection Coach, said that kids need to hear, “You are good at ________.” (Fill in the blank.) The motto under Ms. Brown’s name on the event program read, “Helping schools build stronger connections with every student.” She’s a speaker, trainer, author who inspires audiences to embrace authentic connections to unleash the potential of young people. She said, “A kid needs five healthy adult relationships to be a successful adult.”

You are good at ________. Five healthy adult relationships. Those words hit me like a neon sign printed in all caps. I had healthy, strong, loving relationships. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles. But it was a high school teacher and coach who instilled confidence in me as a gangly, awkward teenager and taught me some life lessons.

I grew up in Pickett County where basketball reigned, and still reigns, as the number one sport. Our high school gym was packed for every home game and students vied for a position on the team. Wearing a black and gold Bobcat uniform was a challenge and an honor. As a 9th grader, I was one of the tallest girls to try out for the team, and I’m sure that Coach Elaine Sells, who had been a Pickett County basketball star and had recently graduated from Tennessee Tech, thought she could train me to be a good player.

It was the days when girls’ basketball was played half court. Three players on offense. Three on defense. All I had to do was post up with my back to the goal, catch the ball, and, with a sweeping arc motion, throw the ball into the goal behind me. No dribbling. No fancy footwork. A simple smooth move for a hook shot. But the balls I threw rarely went through the net. Most times, nowhere near the net.

Elaine did her best. She demonstrated the perfect hook shot. She stood in front of me and I mimicked her movements. I practiced hook shots with and without a basketball. After team practices, Elaine worked one on one with me. At home, I stood in front of the basketball goal in our backyard and tried and tried to master a hook shot. For two basketball seasons, I dressed out in uniform and sat on the bench. The few times that I played in games, I hoped that no one would throw me the ball. Not only was I the tallest player on the team, I was the most uncoordinated and the least competitive, but I loved being a team member.

Elaine kept me on the team. Those two years as a player and the next two years as team manager. She had encouraged me to try and work hard. And then she taught me to accept my limitations and use my assets. I was happy to gather towels and basketballs and cheer loudly and encourage my teammates, especially the younger players.

So, this is a public thank you to Elaine for not giving up on a gangly, awkward girl who loved basketball and couldn’t play a lick. Thank you for giving me a job that I could do well and making me feel successful.

Final Four

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 9.05.07 AMNow there are four men’s teams and only three more games. I’m already feeling withdrawal and sad because this time next week the college basketball season will be finished, over, done. Some of you are saying, “Thank goodness!’ March Madness has almost been a round-the-clock reality TV show for the past two weeks. A reality show that I’ve recorded and watched and then read about in the newspaper. A reality show that will end when the players of the championship team cut down the net. “One Shining Moment” will be the background music for a video of the tournaments’ highlights. I’ll shed a tear or two.

I understand not everyone cut teeth on basketball gym bleachers as I did and not everyone cares about the Final Four. Maybe you have barely tolerated friends and family who’ve talked nonstop basketball. Maybe you’ve cheered for our OVC and Tennessee teams, and when those teams lost, you lost interest. This writing is for you.

Isn’t there something interesting besides the game score?  Some trivia? According to ESPN.go.com, the Florida Gators’ colors are orange and blue. Florida’s forward Jacob Kurtz used to be the team manager. He washed practice gear and handed out socks. From laundry boy to walk-on player to scholarship player.

The Connecticut Huskies wear blue and white. Connecticut, aka UConn, is the only university in the country that offers a Masters in the Puppet Arts.   UConn’s Shabazz Napier would play for Puerto Rico, his mother’s homeland, if that team gets into the 2016 Olympics. He could have quit college and played professionally, but he promised his mother that he would graduate. And on Mother’s Day, he will.

The Kentucky Wildcats’ color is blue. All of Kentucky’s starting players are freshmen. How does a coach teach 19 year-olds to share and play together? Kentucky has two great freshmen players who are identical twins, Andrew and Aaron Harrison. Imagine how proud their parents are. And a silly anagram for Kentucky Wildcats is “Twisty Dunk (cackle).”

The Wisconsin Badgers wear cardinal and white.  The school’s mascot name came from miners in the 1820s who dug like a badger. Without housing in winter, the miners burrowed into hillside tunnels. During the play of a game, watch 7 foot center Frank Kaminsky – he talks to himself. His teammates are sometimes distracted. Maybe his opponents, too.

Who? When? Where?   On Saturday night, Florida vs. Connecticut and Kentucky vs. Wisconsin. The winners play the championship game Monday night.   Arlington, Texas (close to Fort Worth) at the A T & T Stadium.

To make it through the next few days around us basketball fans, pretend to be interested. Pick a team, based on any criteria. A color or mascot. One of my Grands said he’s for Wisconsin because his daddy knows people who live there. I narrowed my choice to Florida and Kentucky because those schools are in the SEC (Southeastern Conference) – the same conference that the University of Tennessee is in. I’m going with Florida. Those Kentucky freshmen will get another chance.

And you should know that the women’s Final Four games will be played in Nashville, Music City USA, Sunday and Tuesday. I’ll be in a nosebleed seat. As I write, the women’s final four teams haven’t been determined, but I know my team is the one who plays UConn. I can’t tell you why here. Ask me and I will.



It’s March Madness for Goodnes Sakes!


Pardon me, if you ring my doorbell and I don’t answer.  And when you call my house, please leave a message on the answering machine.  I’ll get back to you, but it’ll be a couple of weeks.  It’s March Madness, for goodness sakes!  I’m hiding away in our downstairs den in front of our big-screen TV.  Got to take in all the basketball while I can.

Maybe I’m such a March Madness nut because basketball is the only sport I halfway understand.  I was raised in Pickett County where the high school gym filled to standing room only for every Friday night home game.  When I was a babe in arms, my parents took me to my first game, and the only hometown games I didn’t attend for the next 17 years were played when I was sick in bed.

During March Madness, I cheer for my favorite teams – men’s and women’s.  I was disappointed that TTU* didn’t make the NCAA tournaments and I’m still baffled that there were only three SEC men’s teams selected and I’m frustrated that the Vols piddled away their NIT game.  Even if my favorite teams aren’t playing, I’m still watching.

Before or during every game, I choose a team I want to win.  OVC and SEC schools are my first choices.  Then ACC schools and coaches I like.  If I don’t know anything about either team, I often choose the underdog.  Or a team uniform I like – not neon colors or camouflagepatterned shorts.  Sometimes, one player like Brittany Griner on Baylor’s women’s team gives me reason to support her team.

I watch basketball games to see five athletes perform together and separately.  I clap for back door cuts, lob passes, and switches on defense.  I like slam dunks, 6 out of 7 free throws, and three point shots.  Good defense, assists, and team play – that’s makes a game worth watching.  And I like after game celebrations.  Did you see the Wichita State players dance after they beat #1 Gonzaga?  Or how about the 15th seeded Florida Gulf Coast equipment manager putting on a show after his team earned a trip to the Sweet Sixteen?

I can’t watch every game live, but I’d like to.  Both men’s and women’s games.  That’s why a DVR was invented.  I can scan the play of a game in less than an hour or sometimes just take in the last quarter.

It’s said that the basketball games during the NCAA tournaments are the best events in sports.  Of course, they are.  That’s why I’m excited.  We’re smack dab in the middle of March Madness!

*For readers who need help with initials. 

            TTU- Tennessee Technological University

            NCAA – National Collegiate Athletic Association

            OVC – Ohio Valley Conference

            SEC – Southeastern Conference

            ACC – Atlantic Coast Conference

            NIT- National Invitational Tournament

            DVR – Digital Video Recorder