March 17, 2010

Sports and me

It's basketball season, so that means I'll hopefully end up dropping fifty or so bucks - five at a time - to see the Princeton Vikes as they head toward what will hopefully be another appearance at the state basketball championship level.

Next game is tonight up at Xavier tonight as the boys take on their first Catholic school opponent, and I'll enjoy the heck out of it.

But I won't yell or scream.

It's not what I do when I'm at a basketball game...or a baseball game...or hockey... football... soccer... whatever.

I'm all down with rooting for the Vikings and all - especially since I know students on both teams - but I know that my cheering, my screaming, my yelling, my whatevering probably won't have any sort of impact on the game.  And I gave up my screaming at the sports teams a long while ago.

I remember screaming when I was at Wabash.  We had a blast harassing the visiting players as much as we could, bringing whatever pots and pans we could from our fraternity house, banging the crap out of them with oversized spoons and ladles just to be as obnoxious as we could manage to be.

I don't know that we ever actually had any impact on the game, but we screamed and yelled and generally made jerks out of ourselves entirely.

And I haven't done that since.

I've enjoyed watching tennis matches and basketball games and even bowling - um, bowling whatever-they're-calleds.  And I haven't screamed much at all.

I don't wear a lucky shirt to watch ballgames at home.

I don't have idiosyncrasies or routines that I have to follow to make sure that the Vikes win. 

I'm much more likely to sit down way up high in the bleachers away from the rest of the fans, kick back, and enjoy the game than I am to sit down from and scream my head off.

I don't know where this attitude came from - admittedly my mom isn't exactly all that sport-oriented, but I remember my dad dropping a number of fricks and fracks whenever the Indiana basketball teams of the 1980s gave up a lead or didn't run the motion offense correctly, but I also remember one conversation in particular.

It was March of 1992 - seventeen years ago now - and the New Albany Bulldogs were in the regional finals in Seymour taking on the Jeffersonville Red Devils (kinda like this past weekend's game).  New Albany was my team, and the Saturday of regionals had become a fairly regular home.

Lots of people would get hotel rooms to party away the afternoon between the two morning games - 11:00 and 1:00 - and the night game - sometime around 7:00 - because there wasn't a whole lot of ways to pass the time in Seymour.  Some years I would go with my father and spend half the time eating at The Pines.  Other years I'd hang out with CoachSullivan, visiting with his family there in town.  I remember one year hanging with The Girl and our friends passing time in a cd & tape store (seriously, they had those back then) and Wal-Mart (seriously, Seymour's not exactly a happening place).

New Albany had drawn the second of the two semifinals that year, playing Scottsburg (I think).  This was always a disadvantage as it left the team with two hours less recovery time in turning around for the evening game.  I sat on the front row with my friends - we'd painted shirts spelling out something or the other - and I yelled like a madman at the referees, especially when one of the New Albany players was fouled and knocked to the floor right in front of the N'Albany student section.

By the evening, we were fully keyed up and ready for the Bulldogs to beat the crap out of the hated Red Devils - N'Albany's oldest, traditional rival.  I'm going to guess that both teams were ranked in the state - I really wish I knew all the details, but I can't find a website that provides the full tournament breakdown of every IHSAA tournament (something that's a crime in this the tourney's 100th year - Sully, a project for you).

The Devils beat the Bulldogs in a close-fought game that night, the last time that I would attend a game at Seymour and get to sit courtside with the students of one of the competing teams.  The New Albany team was made up of people I knew - not necessarily friends for the most part, but people I knew from the halls, people that I'd been around when I was the team statistician during my sophomore year - and they lost.

The good guys lost to the bad guys.

In my head, there was no other way to describe the situation:  evil won and good lost.

No, the Red Devils didn't really carry pitchforks or switchblades, didn't shout curses at the opposing players or their N'Alabny fans, didn't cheat or punch, didn't rape or pillage.  But they were the bad guys, and for some reason that bothered me.

My team was supposed to win.  We'd cheered our hearts out, given everything that a fan section could give (I understand now, of course, that the Jeffersonville cheering section had done the exact same thing), but it hadn't made a difference.  For some reason, that bothered me far more than it should have.  

When I got home that night - rode the hour or so with friends - my dad was already home and still up.  He probably wanted to make sure I got home safely.  He's like that.

I don't know how the conversation started, but I stayed up until one or two in the morning (the game had ended sometime around 9.  I'd gotten home around 11, I would guess.  The kernel of the discussion was my absolute certainty that New Albany was supposed to win, that my team was the good team and that 'we' were supposed to come out victorious because of that.

I just couldn't fathom why we hadn't, why the bad guy had won and why their season was going to continue in Terre Haute the next weekend while my team's season was done.  I remember being near tears at some points in the conversation because I felt so strongly, so absolutely that the Bulldogs were going to prevail.

No, I'd never seen New Albany win a state title (their only one came in 1973, two years before I came into being) or even go to the state title game (I have since seen that, thankfully), so I don't know where I got the absolute certainty about the outcome, but I knew what was going to happen.  It was my senior year, and things were going to work out for the storybook tale.  Everything was going to be right.

But it wasn't.

And something changed in my relationship with sports that night.  I didn't know it at the time, and I didn't feel it consciously, but something was definitely different.

No longer would I live or die with the outcome of a game. 

No longer would I be at risk of cursing or swearing at the television or the officials or the opposing players.

Instead, I would - and do - sit back and enjoy the game for the game itself.

Yes, I often have rooting interests - I want Indiana, Princeton, New Albany, Wabash, the Celtics, the Reds to win - but those rooting interests don't get in the way of my enjoyment of the being a spectator any more.

I applaud the opposing team's great plays and players - admittedly at a lower volume - and don't criticize the referees.  Neither the opposing players nor the officials are trying to cheat 'my' team, they are just trying to do right by their roles, and I appreciate them for that.

I'm not at the game to see Princeton win; I'm at the game to see a great game, and Princeton can't provide that alone.  For the great game, I thank the opponents and the officials, the opposing fans and everyone in attendance.

So when, last weekend, a colleague of mine leaned over from the seat behind me and asked why I was so calm at the Princeton-Fairmont basketball game, I simply replied "this is how I watch basketball".


Ame said...

I must say that you were missed at a good lunch at the pines 2 saturdays ago.

achilles3 said...

That pic cracks me up. You look confused!

thort said...

i, too, hope the vikes march through the field!!

i appreciate the sentiments regarding cheering and yelling. wish i could say that i am as subdued, but alas, i am not. i do refrain from using profanities and being personal, but it is not in my nature to remain calm.

i will be spending my weekend camped in front of 2 tv's with The Boy teaching him the finer points of March Madness. dont ask me what a 3 week old can comprehend, but it will be fun nonetheless.


coachsullivan said...

Your memories are pleasant, especially the part about a tight win for Jeffersonville. Here's a hint--I got into that game if that tells you what kind of margin the Devils were working with. Incidentally, we were ranked 3rd, they were ranked 6th. And it was 86-55...the thing I've found in coaching is that it's way easier to have sharp recall of games you've lost.

You were up until 2 that night? This goes a long way towards explaining the beating in Hi-Q we took the following day. I don't recall being too chipper myself.

You didn't get it all out of your system. Hint: "Shoot it!" every time Sibbitt crossed halfcourt at the Hall of Fame.

I'm with you, though. I never had been a fan per se since I was always on the team, so the following two years I did turn into the raving loony up in the stands. The game for me that probably caused the epiphany was the state finals loss to South Bend Clay in '94. Ever since, I've been much more subdued and more of an observer of the game rather than a fanatic.

PHSChemGuy said...

Ame - I'm sorry that I didn't miss lunch at the Pines a week later, too, though I wish Jeff well at the Semistate this weekend.

Achilles - I wasn't confused. I was actually paying attention to the girls doubles team that I was coaching at the time.

Thort - Sadly, the Vikes ran into a buzzsaw in the forms of a Moeller comeback (from 16 down with 10.5 minutes to go).

Good luck imprinting Max on the roundball.

Sully - I swear, man, there needs to be a website that has the full tournament record (scores of each game, full tournament brackets) for the 100 years of the IHSAA tourney. It would take some work and research, but it could totally be done. If only you had some summer time.

Seriously, a 31-point win? That has been emptied entirely from my brain.

And, yeah, I wasn't at my strongest the next day for Hi-Q. I remember Richardson saying that he knew we were in trouble when the other team buzzed in, and I just rolled my eyes. I was exhausted.

I'm not saying I'm entirely subdued. Just this past week, when Princeton was rolling up a dozen-point win just after halftime, I yelled out 'shoot it' (not screamed, just a little louder than teacher voice) when the opposing shooting guard crossed midcourt. I'll admit to having a huge weakness for a shooting guard with no fear, long range, and a quick release.