Basketball is in my blood and I love the game and all of its glory. Not the fast paced, overpowering muscular sport of today’s professional basketball game, but the game of magical hoops that showcases a kid who sweetly hits that three pointer with a fantastical release of the ball from outside the designated line. I love the basketball that enables a kid who comes from nothing to practice his craft with little more than grit and determination and who ends up on the national stage where he is noticed, admired and applauded. I love the kind of basketball that showcases the 5 foot, 10 inch middle class, 15 year old boy from the Midwest who has stood outside in the freezing cold, shooting free throw, after free throw, after free throw, so that he has a chance to make guard on his high school basketball team and play his beloved sport. I love the kind of basketball that Indiana boys dream of, and in their dreams, store up hopes for playing for a college with a coach whose reputation can’t even begin to match that of the inimitable Bobby Knight.
This is the kind of basketball that expressively flows through my veins. The kind of basketball that in March of every year, conjures up the smell of a locker room, the sounds of rubber soled shoes connecting with the polished gymnasium floors, and the sound of the stunned and amazed crowd of spectators when an impossibly difficult shot swishes through the net with one second left on the clock, and the game which was all but lost, is now won.
I grew up in Indiana, to parents from Kentucky, to a father who played on a winning high school basketball team. With that kind of basketball pedigree, the inevitable occurs, and during March, I am lost to the crazed madness of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Daddy was a high school basketball star for the Rineyville Red Devils and played on its winning teams of 1940-41 and 1941-42. In 1941, the Rineyville Red Devils were the first basketball team to represent Hardin County, Kentucky in the ‘Sweet 16’ on the road to the high school state championship and their dominance in the region lasted through the ’48 season. Reading the yellowed copy of an old newspaper article, my father’s name repeatedly jumps out of the article identifying him as a key player on the team- “When the final buzzer sounded Owsley and Strange had scored 15 points and nine points respectively and Rineyville had shocked Vine Grove 33-27. The Red Devils were headed for Lexington and the ‘Sweet Sixteen’ again.” (Excerpted from an article printed in the Elizabethtown News Bicentennial Edition, May 1974). While nine points may not sound like much by today’s standard, the ending scores of the basketball days of old were much lower, the three point shot nor the slam dunk were in effect, and defense was the name of the game.
I wasn’t around to watch back in the forties, but I do remember as a very young child sitting on the sidelines, on retractable bleachers, watching my twenty-something father play basketball on the local church league. I remember his tall slender frame lifting magically off the floor with one arm raised to score two points with a lay-up. I remember the patient instructions on the outdoor asphalt court at the high school as he taught my brother to carefully shoot the free throw shot, and I remember his conversations with my own son about the coaches, the players and the outcomes of this beautiful sport.
My daughter tells friends that her mother is “crazy” during the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament and I hate to admit, but I am. I suffer from that basketball madness that only a kid from Indiana, Kentucky, or maybe even North Carolina can experience. It’s the kind of madness that brings a smile to my face when I witness a last second miraculous shot, and the kind of madness I personally experience when I look up at the circular hoop ensconced in an orange rim far above my height and throw in a shot that drops through the net.
In 2016’s NCAA March Madness, my beloved Indiana Hoosiers are in the hunt and I hope they do not disappoint. The season is winding down, the brackets are being destroyed with unexpected winners and all the experts are predicting which teams will make it to the Final Four. There will be some surprises and there will definitely be some disappointments, and there just might be at least one Cinderella story.
As the weeks of March Madness proceed, I will be watching and a little bit of me will go crazy. I will be cheering from the sidelines-anxious, pacing and amazed. I will fondly recall the lessons of my favored sport from long ago. I will watch the loft of the circular form on its downward path toward the rim and I will somehow hear the almost silent swish of the ball sailing through the hoop. I will remember the Cinderella footsteps of a young man from Rineyville, Kentucky who taught me how and why to love basketball, and the boys of basketball will once again amaze me.
My boys of basketball-the Indiana Hoosiers! Good luck and let the madness begin! The Strange kids from Indiana will be cheering!