Two of my favorite months of the year are March and November. Both months correspond with the beginning of my two favorite sports; at least, when people notice that they are going on.
March is the time where hope springs eternal. Major League Baseball is starting back up as teams have reported to their various camps for Spring Training and games have already begun in both the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues. Colleges, depending on the level of competition, have already played around a month or so of games. High school teams similarly have either started practice or are gearing up for their first game. There is a pep in people’s step. For years, this was people’s de facto New Years. Resolutions were made. Assurances of winning hardware were declared. Each and every locker room is filled with optimism, whether or not there should be. Guys who are 20 pounds overweight report, “I’m in the best shape of my life.”
The real terk jerker in all of this is when MLB Media records various stars from across the league reading the famed speech “People will come, Ray” from the movie Field of Dreams. In this one speech, a piece of movie and baseball lore, everything beautiful about America’s pastime comes center stage. It brings the viewer back to simpler days when they were children and could enjoy a good game of baseball at their city park. Or their dad taking them to watch the local professional team play and sharing a box of Cracker Jacks with them. It is in these moments Bob Lemon’s quote rings truest, “Baseball was meant for kids, and grown ups only screw it up.”
When November rolls around, a World Series champion has been crowned, post season awards are being handed out, and free agency is now the focal point of the baseball world. In other parts of the nation, basketball is now in full swing.
As the seasons move from the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox, most would rather just stay inside and drink hot cocoa. In Indiana, we forgo hot cocoa for a stuffy gym where our local heroes are defending our town’s honor against the team from a county over. Every Friday night, the stakes are the same, but the weight of performing well mounts as the season goes along.
In other states, basketball is just another sport. In Indiana, basketball reigns supreme.
I attended a small Christian school in inner city Louisville, K.y. If my school was placed in this area of the world it would easily be the smallest school, by a long shot. Counting me, my graduating class had 19 students. We had a fairly supportive and vocal alumni base for our basketball team at times, especially when the team was competitive. Due to the size of our school and its location, our gym had around 300 seats. It was loudest my senior year as we finished with one of the best records in school history at 14-10.
That same year, I had the privilege of going to the IHSAA 1A and 4A semi-state games at Seymour High School. I had the most unforgettable experience. In a gym that seats 8200 plus, there was hardly an empty seat. As my dad, youngest brother and I walked in to watch Borden take on University in the 1A semi-state match-up, the roar of the crowd could be heard before ever getting to the door.
The gym was deafening.
Despite growing up in New Albany, I had never been to a gym as big as Seymour’s, much less experience one at full capacity.
In the words of Coach Norman Dale, “Welcome to Indiana basketball.”
As the seasons change, people you haven’t seen in months make their way down to the local gym to watch and experience Indiana basketball at all levels. They swap stories of the kid 25 years ago who scored more points than anyone.
Someone mutters in the corner of the barbershop,
“If he had had the 3 point line...”
Or the 7 foot tall center who was getting recruited by Indiana and Purdue, until scouts saw that the opponent’s 6 foot center bullied him around in the paint.
Or they talk about the Legend himself. The one who was able to put his athleticism and God-given ability together with an incredible work ethic and insatiable hunger to win. Not only was he the best player in a four county radius, he also possessed a special feature that no one else seemed to have.
He was clutch.
Everytime the local fans and team needed a big bucket, he provided it. He provided it even into the state championship where he and his teammates are now forever immortalized.
Some, like Myra Fleener from Hoosiers don’t understand. “You know, a basketball hero around here is treated like a god...I don’t want this to be the high point of his life. I’ve seen them, the real sad ones. They sit around the rest of their lives talking about the glory days when they were seventeen years old.”
The euphoria of watching a god on the court excites even the staunchest of detractors. Whether that god be Damon Bailey, Larry Bird, Jimmy Chitwood, or Romeo Langford, their on court prowess is a sight to behold. Even Myra Fleener couldn’t hold back her elation everytime Jimmy sank shot after shot after shot after shot...
Norman Dale fires back, “You know, most people would kill to be treated like a god, just for a few moments.”
This epitomizes the beauty of high school sports. Not everyone who participates in high school athletics has aspirations to make a career out of it. Some are content to use the life lessons taught by their coaches and go get an education and enter the workforce. Others, do have aspirations of making their beloved sport their life’s work. But in high school sports, both have their chance at greatness.
To quote the Great Bambino, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”
Will is a staff writer at the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org