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The madness of March

For the first time in decades, I didn't fill out an NCAA bracket - and here's why

by Scott Warden, OSV Newsweekly

When I was growing up, there was no better day than today. For me, it was Christmas morning if Christmas morning was warm with spring sunshine and lasted three weeks.

I still get excited, but as a kid, there was nothing better than the first day of the NCAA Tournament. While the teams and seeds were being announced Sunday evening, my brother and I would furiously write down the pairings on our homemade brackets, which were prepared with the detail of two school-aged architects drawing up blueprints as we filled the dining room table with rulers and graph paper and pens. We would spend days preparing. If we would have spent half the time doing our homework as we did poring over the special section USA Today printed that Monday, we would have far surpassed the mediocrity that defined our early academic careers. But we had our priorities.

Despite the enjoyment of the research, of filling out bracket after bracket full of eraser-marked second-guesses, the three days between Selection Sunday and the first game were agonizing. But, always, Thursday morning would roll around. And so would the annual 24-hour stomach bug that devastated my brother and me. We were smart enough not to get hit at the same time. He would generally fall ill first, on Thursday (he’s older, after all), and as he improved throughout the day, I would take to feeling worse, having to stay home Friday. We were cured by the sounds of squeaky shoes echoing in mostly empty arenas and the thumping of basketballs. I would sprawl out on the couch, brackets in hand, in a state of pure bliss.

Some of my best memories growing up were watching NCAA Tournament games with my brother. I was 9 when Keith Smart sank a jumper from the corner to lead my Indiana Hoosiers to an NCAA championship, a game we stayed up late to watch, scanning press row all night to look for our dad, who was in New Orleans covering the game. I was 13 when the Final Four was being held two hours south of us in Indianapolis. Dad bought us scalped tickets, and the seats were a mile away from the court — literally in the last row of the arena, so high that we could touch the soft roof of the Hoosier Dome. My brother turned 16 that last day of March in 1991, when we watched through binoculars Duke hand UNLV its first loss of the season.

I loved everything about the tournament — the upsets and the brackets and skipping school and CBS flipping from game to game. I loved the tension late in games, hoping the team I picked to advance would win.

For the last several years, my enthusiasm (and my free time) has faded. But this year, I didn’t fill out a bracket for the first time since I can remember — probably 30 years. I didn’t watch more than a couple of passing minutes of college basketball. And I was saddened a little by my ambivalence. But life has a way of changing your priorities. I’ve been busy with work, with the kids and their homework and their activities.

I thought about all of this when I read the statements made by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, during a March 16 discussion at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He was encouraging the faithful to spend more time learning about the Faith and less time on, well, more frivolous things. “If we took the same studied approach to what the Church is saying as we do, let’s say, to sports, we’d be experts,” he said. “I tell our people ‘We have to be students,’” he said, adding that one of the missions born from last year’s extraordinary Synod on the Family “is to take an interest, become a student, even as much as March Madness.”

Archbishop Kurtz is talking about the changing of priorities.

In this area, I’m trying to do my best. I’m immersed in Church teaching (in one form or another) all day and, at night, along with my wife, in dirty diapers and homework and dinner and packing lunches and running errands and fighting about bedtime. Please don’t get me wrong: The joy all these things bring me is immense. My life is truly blessed.

But I must confess that part of me misses hanging on every basket made or missed. I miss the carefree days of my youth.

Even so, I wouldn’t trade now for then.

Maybe next year I’ll take today off. I’ll spend the early afternoon sprawled out on the couch, holding my baby instead of my brackets, maybe catching a few passing minutes of the games on TV. And, in a state of pure bliss, we’ll both fall asleep to the sound of squeaking shoes and thumping basketballs.

Scott Warden is the associate editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_OSV
For more of Scott's Confessions of a Catholic Dad, click here.

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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