Janet Sheridan: March Madness

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Janet Sheridan

Since moving to Craig, I’ve learned a new definition for March Madness — craziness that creeps over the populace as winter rages against spring — and wins.

However, for most of my life, 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 punched them.

From junior high through high school, I experienced the movie, “Hoosiers.”

All week I anticipated the Friday night basketball games played in the crowded gymnasium of Spanish Fork High School. 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, most people sized up my height and assumed I would play basketball. I shared their assumption, until I ran into the reality of women’s sports in the 1950s.

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

In high school, we played actual games, but with special rules to protect our delicate physiques.

Unfortunately, the restrictions also 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 sweat.

In college, I continued to attend every home game. The Aggies of Utah State fielded credible teams, though to my despair they never managed to advance beyond the second round in the NCAA tournament.

I especially liked loitering in the student union on game day. When the visiting teams strolled through, I walked among them and felt petite.

Professional basketball caught my attention only sporadically.

I enjoyed the rivalries of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlin, followed by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. When Michael Jordan retired and took his soaring brilliance with him, I quit watching.

But March Madness has retained its spell.

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

I thrill to the possibility that at any given moment a team or player may 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.

Fans crowded the city, poured onto buses, and yelled in exuberance. The cold air outside the arena cooled faces flushed from the over-heated excitement of the games inside.

Inside, the fieldhouse 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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