Friday Red: The Scarlet and Black

February 28, 2009

And yet another new context for the color red on Friday nights: Tonight, D and I spent the bulk of our evening watching Division III college basketball. We got to witness our team, the Pioneers, defeat the St. Norbert Green Knights (who had beat us earlier in the season) in thrilling fashion to advance to the finals of the Midwest Conference Tourney. Tomorrow, they take on the Lawrence Vikings for the title of all-out champ and entrant into the Div III national tournament come March.

Basketball has been one of our unexpected discoveries this year. It started when I met the new women’s bball coach during new faculty orientation. We’re about the same age, and we have “I don’t really know if I should be called faculty solidarity,” so we hit it off. Being friends with her naturally led to learning a thing or two about the game, and that led to being at the women’s opening game, and from there it was a small step to being at the men’s opening game, which was the same night, immediately following. 

When it comes to basketball, I’ve never been a big fan of the men’s game. As in tennis and soccer, I rarely connect to men playing. Maybe because the play is too fast for a non-athlete like myself to really follow, or maybe because male athletes play like a**holes a large amount of the time. But the Pioneers drew me in with The System. The System works like this: they run a full-court press, play as little defense as possible, and engineer all their plays around creating openings for 3 point shots.

Did that last sentence not mean anything to you? Yeah, that was me. Last fall. Before I started watching The System.

It didn’t take long before I was an all out Pioneer basketball fan. Now, I sometimes even switch to college basketball on television when I want to kill time. Crazy. I know, right? 

I don’t know if this fascination will hold over next year, when I no longer see the athletes on the court as students first, coming to the library, doing their liberal arts thing and being great at sinking 3’s at the same time. It might be a one-year thing, like this job, like being able to hang out with the basketball coach and a physics prof and a Classics prof at the same time, all of them conversant in this game we spend our evenings watching, quietly breaking plans with non-fans and getting up early to get our real work done beforehand so we can. 

I’m not thinking about this right now, reviewing key plays in mind as I get ready to go to bed. I’m thinking about how I hope this team full of gifted, but relatively short, seniors can recover from tonight’s tough game to play their hearts out tomorrow, because in all likelihood, it’s going to be the last game of their careers. I’m hoping that the 3’s sink convincingly and Lawrence falls all over itself trying to outrun our Pioneers. I’m nervous about our injured point guard and the sophomore guard who is being asked to learn how to take his place. This is a distraction, but I sometimes think it is an important one. Most of us don’t win or lose in 40 minute spurts, but watching those who do can remind us how important it is to focus and take the risk of believing we can succeed. When it matters, the outcome is never certain. You can play a technically perfect game and lose–it takes more than that in the long run. You have to do your best every minute you can and take the chance it won’t be enough. Sometimes it won’t be. Learning to step into those moments honestly is a lesson that can come in many forms–Greek quizzes or Moby Dick final papers or conference finals–and I like being at a school that sees it that way.

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