March Madness!

~~ Originally printed in Carrboro (NC) Free Press, March 2009 ~~

There comes a time every year in Carrboro, when the daffodils are unfurling and bare dogwood branches are studded with buds that dramatically pause before bursting into dazzling bloom. It is a magical time, replete with the accompanying cheery trill of birdsong. And, yet, somehow I miss it. Instead of the glories of purple crocus and the flush of redbud, I am watching an orange ball go through a metal hoop against the hallelujah chorus of squeaking sneakers. Screw spring.

God, I love the sound of basketball shoes on polished wood.

I was born into basketball. Duke basketball, to be exact. I made my way into the world at Duke Hospital, the daughter of a Duke alumnus. The firstborn of very young parents, I attended my first basketball game at the tender age of three weeks. Duke v. Carolina, at Duke. I was actually awake to see Duke win. I know this because my mother wrote it down in my baby book.

We moved from Durham to Chapel Hill when I was six. Yes, it was a bit lonely being a Duke fan at school. When I went with friends to see Eric Clapton at Cameron Indoor, I was on familiar ground. But when my Chapel Hill High graduation was held at the Dean Dome the year it opened, I felt like I was on another planet.

Completely going against my raising, I went away to college—to Appalachian State University, a school that doesn’t really have a basketball program. Well, not a real basketball program. I fell away from the faith, so to speak. But the prodigal daughter did return, after a fashion, to Orange County. I went to a few Duke games, here and there, when I could. I watched most on TV.

When I moved to Charleston, SC, in 2002, I missed my family of course. I missed my friends. But it wasn’t until the following March that I truly became homesick. You see, for ACC basketball fans, Charleston is not exactly Mecca. When people spoke of “Carolina,” they meant ‘Cocks, and not ‘Heels. It was rather… disturbing.

As people are wont to do when they wander far from home, I quickly found others who shared the faith, who had been baptized in the church of the ACC. Oh, we were a ragtag bunch to be sure, but we came together only as those who face persecution can. We had our disagreements over the finer points of doctrine: we counted Demon Deacons, Blue Devils and Tar Heels among our sparse numbers. But we shared the same liturgical calendar, and we knew the same hymns. We found great joy in our common theological tenets, and yet there was greater joy in our differences, our rivalries.

My spiritual basketball fervor was higher than ever. I didn’t miss a game, or an opportunity to put someone else’s team down. I filled out brackets like they were statements of belief. I picked winners based on teams’ hometowns. I picked winners based on the strength of the mascot. I picked winners based on school colors. But I always came down to a Duke v. UNC championship game, with the Devils emerging triumphant.

What? Oh, sure. I’ll join your bracket pool.

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