March Madness and me
For as long as I can remember, I've had my toes lined up facing a basket and a basketball arcing its way through the air. What began those years ago as shooting around, finding my range and getting drenched when I played in the rain, has turned into a lifelong, passionate affection for the game of basketball.
My debut performance on the court occurred at the Southwest Community Center next to Gabriel Park when I was 6 years old. We played a coed five-on-five game and paired up with our opponent by wearing matching-colored wristbands. Throughout the game we would switch wristbands to guard someone else. During my two years playing there I vaguely remember the end of game scores or my coaches, but I do remember the glory of making a basket. It was like the world could be set on fire, but I didn't care because I made that basket and it was a swish. Since those moments, I have played on a team always in pursuit of that glory.
My sophomore season just ended with my teammates at Riverdale High School. For the first time in school history, we had a winning season, qualified for play-offs, won our district championship and entered the State Class 2A tournament in Pendleton as one of eight teams vying for the title. We finished sixth in state and I could not be more proud of my team. The experiences we had together in early March will never leave me including the spirit of resilience as we weathered our first run in the post-season.
I've always watched the season-ending tournaments for other OSAA classifications as well as the NCAA tournaments but never have I played in one of my own. That is why this year when I fill out my NCAA brackets, watch as many games as possible and evaluate the players, I do it with a new perspective and appreciation for the game of basketball and its participants.
The scope of these tournaments in March is commonly known as 'March Madness.' March Madness, trademarked by the NCAA and the Illinois High School Association, has roots that date back to 1939, when an official with the IHSA wrote an article titled 'March Madness.' The phrase stayed within Illinois borders until 1982, when CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger started using it when the NCAA tournaments aired, unleashing one of the most popular sports phrases in American culture.
I plan on watching both the NCAA Division I men's and women's tournaments during my spring break, where a collective 128 teams will compete for the title. Though the tournament is seeded, every team plays like it's the best.
You can forget all the pre-season magic, conference games won by free throws and overtime buzzer beaters during the play-offs. Isaiah Thomas' game-winning shot over Arizona? Luck. University of Connecticut women's team record-breaking 90 game-winning streak? No big deal. These teams don't care about the history their opponents made in the past, only the history they want to make for themselves.
Making history was a big theme this year for my team, better known as 'Mavs on the Mooove.' In order to create that history, we had to evolve in our play. We evolved by working out pre-season kinks, making sharper passes, running our plays and upping our tempo, but we also evolved as people. We learned to trust each other on the court by communicating and working as a unit.
Our 'unit' play didn't happen until we got closer and closer to our goal. And once we reached our goal, making it to state, our unity only strengthened. Just the thought of playing basketball is something I hold onto, but being with my team is something I won't let go. My March Madness not only gave me time on the floor to compete, it lengthened the amount of time I got to spend with my team.
When I watch the March Madness tournaments this year, this is what I'll be thinking about: teammates sharing the ball and sharing the passion for the game. And with all our toes lined up facing the basket, my Mavs and I will be sharing those memories for a while.