March Madness

adapted from a column published in 2011

Ball

Since moving to Northwest Colorado, I’ve learned a second definition for March Madness: the craziness that creeps over the populace as winter battles spring and too often wins. For most of my life, however, March Madness meant the NCAA tournament and basketball at its finest.

I grew up with the game. My older brothers scuffled a patch of packed dirt beneath a basket hanging regulation height from a telephone pole. Sometimes they created secret plays with complicated passes and elaborate feints, then enlisted Carolyn and me to stop their shot anyway we could.

We couldn’t. I sulked; Carolyn exacted revenge.

During junior high and high school, I anticipated the Friday night basketball games played in the crowded gymnasium of Spanish Fork High School all week. Filled bleachers rose from the sidelines to a thronged balcony. A band blared from the stage; and my brothers—Lawrence and then Bob—started for the Spaniards.

As I grew, people assessed my height and assumed I would play basketball; I shared their assumption—until I ran into the reality of women’s sports in the 50’s.

In junior high, we crowded around side baskets to practice shooting or passing while eying the boys at the other end of the gym. Though we never played a game, we preferred the basketball drills to the calisthenics unit.

 We played actual games in high school, but with special rules that protected our fragile bodies and stifled the flow of the game.

Not robust enough to run full court, we played in two zones: each team had three offensive players on one side of the half-court line and three defensive players on the other. A player who crossed the line risked both fouling and fatigue.

We could hold the ball only three seconds and dribble only three times. If you stole the ball from another player, you were whistled for unladylike behavior.

As center, I spent half my time wandering around the half-court line, watching the action at the other end. When my team managed to get possession, I ran for the basket, as instructed, hoping the forwards would get the ball to me, but they were usually too busy counting to three.

I scored five points in my best game—my daintiness unmarred by unsightly sweat.

Despite my unhappy experience with the game, my first exposure to the NCAA tournament on a small black-and-white TV in the sixties hooked me, and I still consider it the best sporting event on TV.

I love the language of the tournament: March Madness, N-C-double-A, Selection Sunday, top seed, underdog, Cinderella team, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four.

I thrill to the possibility that at any time a player or a team could exceed expectations, stun the crowd with excellence, and send a higher-ranked team home.

A few years ago, Joel and I went to the western regional in Salt Lake City with friends. The field house was a jumble of crowded seating, blaring buzzers, dancing mascots, frantic coaches, and players leaping in victory or drooping in defeat with towels hiding their faces—all tied together by the constant, mesmerizing movement of the game and the steady rain of basketballs through a hoop.

And the fun is about to begin again.

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28 thoughts on “March Madness

  1. I’d forgotten about the restrictive rules. They loosened up a bit by the time I was in HS. I like collage sports, very rarely do I watch pro anything. Great story!

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  2. Loved this! I –sigh–was too busy sporting patent leather pumps to be “sporty.” But, being here at Ground Zero for all things basketball (aka March Madness/ Hoosier Hysteria) I have to share this photograph of one of the large hotels downtown all decked out with a “bracket” and waiting for the crowds headed our way as we play host to the venerated “Final Four!”
    This is nutty: and it takes a whole lotta coding apparently to show the photo, but it sums up Indy right now 🙂

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    • Oh, I, too had patent leather pumps and felt quite elegant, if a little unbalanced, in them. I like the term Hoosier Hysteria because it pretty much sums up the spirit of the entire event. I’ve never been to the Final Four, but I’d like too. I didn’t get the photograph. Is there something I need to do? I’d love to see it.

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  3. Your description of girls’ basketball in the fifties sounds very similar to netball, still the most popular women’s sport in Australia. It is also renowned for knee and ankle injuries because you can only make three steps while holding the ball.

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      • No, I was never much good at sport. My daughter played for a while in the 80s, but there were also ridiculous rules about the colours of scrunchies (hair bands – not sure if it is an Australian or international term) and sneakers. Not sure if they have relaxed them.
        I’m sure you can find a you-tube clip.
        There is fierce competition between Australia and New Zealand at professional levels.
        Apologies for liking my own comment.

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      • I’m a better spectator than player myself. My granddaughters taught me the word scrunchies a few years back, so I guess it is an international term. I did see some netball; it looks fast and aggressive and, like you said, hard on one’s body. No apologies necessary for your like because I found your comment likable as well.

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  4. Loved reading your post. You were an athlete…! I was a klutz in sports.. But, schooled in Indiana, I also lived in state where basketball was King… Laughed at the re-play of the girls rules. I do remember the first time I saw the girls state finals championship game televised in Indiana. Happiness tears unexpectedly flowed to see our young women finally be allowed to get in the game. It is also a point of pride in Charlotte that the Athletic Director of all mens and women’s sports at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is a talented woman and effective administrator. Her name is Judy Rose. I was Dean of Health and Human Services College there till I retired. So great to see things change for young girls. (It’s a topic for another post, but we still have along way to go, as long as our sisters do not make equal pay, and there are battered women, honor killings and barriers to education.) Sue
    womenlivinglifeafter50.com

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    • What a wonderful reply, Sue. I wondered how my readers would react to a post about college basketball, and your response thrilled me. I watch my granddaughters play a variety of sports with aggressiveness and skill, and, like you, sometimes shed a few happy tears. Women worldwide do have a way to go, but can look to progress made as a reminder that things can be changed. PS: Hurray for Judy Rose!

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  5. What an energetic post, I feel as if I’ve been exercising! Love your enthusiasm Janet! My brothers were the sporty ones, I wasn’t good enough to make a team. Netball was the fashion here in Australia when I was young, but I loved watching boys play basketball, or my brothers play football and cricket.

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    • I, too am a much better spectator than player, especially when someone I care for is playing. My brother Bob was quite a basketball star as a senior when I was a sophomore, and I thrilled or despaired every minute he played.

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  6. Basketball- never would have thunk it, so modesty forbids I did cook lunch for Steve Nash, when a schoolboy at canoe camp. Basketball- jammed fingers, Zoe Olsen’s armpits in my hair, Kathy Cruzille’s mother sewing sleeves and legs onto her “immoral” uniform and making her wear it. Worry over knocking out the teeth Ma paid for- I did not like basketball, though it bounced off my face once, through the hoop and everyone- even Miss Crehan, just stood there in awe- it was my moment…Thanks for a good chuckle Janet.

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    • What a basketball moment you had, Sheila; a feat few have accomplished. As for your description of armpits, immoral uniforms, and jammed fingers: all the things that made physical education the least popular class for many a girl. Steve Nash? I’m impressed.

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      • Yup, P.E., here of course in the 60’s our schools were still a remnant of the British System, pinnies, Croquet, Cricket for the boys, Field Hockey in a skirt for girls. This is Steve Nash’s hometown- a local hero, probably had hot-dogs at camp lunch.Always wished I was tall..

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      • And I yearned to be short; strange how critical we can be about ourselves when young. The camp hotdogs obviously did well by Steve. When I happened to watch pro basketball for one reason or another, I admired his play with no idea of his background.

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  7. Oh, those silly girl’s basketball rules! We played with those rules when I played in gym class in middle school. But by the time I was on the high school team the girls played by the boys rules.
    Yes, I was on the team. But due to my very short stature I was mostly a bench warmer.

    March Madness is lots of fun! It’s a real “win or go home” sporting event.
    Let the games begin!

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    • I’m glad you enjoy March Madness; I really get into it, watching teams from the west and any team that has underdog status and wins a few rounds. I think the best games usually happen in the first rounds; the final four can be disappointing.

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  8. Basketball has always been my favorite spectator sport. The noisy gyms, excited fans, and fast pace of the game is the attraction for me. March Madness is when I start paying attention and enjoy it again.

    As a 50’s girl student I experienced the silliness of being protected from “boy” sports. Here’s a thought…..

    2015 is the 40th anniversaary of Title IX which required gender equality in education, including sports. It was signed into law in 1972 but there were 3 years of hysterical Senators, and multiple amendments trying to eliminate sports, before it was enacted.

    The great fear was that allowing women to play sports and receive scholarships would ruin men’s college sports programs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great comment, Mary. I appreciate the historical perspective about the distance we women have come in sports. Not only has women’s sports failed to ruin men’s programs, but they are attracting followers of their own. Also, silliness is the perfect word for the sports we fifties girls played in school.

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