Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reflections on March Madness, After the Madness

There is much to comment about, living in the south, especially down “tobacco road.” In particular, this phenomenon called March Madness. Many of you loyal college basketball enthusiasts would have heard of it before. It is a period of 2-3 months where people and places are infected with a fever; a basketball fever. If you recall, I live and work in a place called Chapel Hill, home of the famous UNC Tarheels, ranked #1 in the nation for the 2008 season. Welcome to Blue Heaven, this is where our story begins.

Everyone, down in the south, and I mean *everyone* are loyal, to the death, basketball followers. It’s not just UNC (although for obvious reasons, I am partial) it’s for Wake Forest, Duke, NC State or Davidson. If you are from the area, or transplants (both foreign and native) you quickly become engrossed in the excitement and before you know it, you life revolves around basketball. The next few months during the season are futile for work productivity, as much time is spent trying to finagle your way into home games (as tickets are next to impossible to secure if you are not a student) strategizing b-ball, and basically living for the next game. Also which bar to go to for which game also becomes important decision, as you cannot just walk into an establishment at tip off. That is, unless you don’t mind watching the game through the reflection in the window. On Franklin Street, (the main drag in Chapel Hill) you must secure your place hours in advance of the game’s start and this fight is not just with the collegiate, but alumni, locals, and your fellow co-workers.

It is hard to describe the passion these people exude for their respective teams. Shops, restaurants, homes, cars etc are decorated in team colors and words of encouragement pour out of those passing by. People with nothing in common bond over their love of the game and their teams. Watch out if rival schools play (e.g. UNC vs Duke). Fires, riots, and nasty words spew even out of the most innocent mouths. Once the regular ACC season is over, March madness commences with a fury. Schools pause during classes and TVs are rolled into gymnasiums so students and faculty may follow the games that appear while school is in session. Even those working in, dare I say, “real” jobs also benefit from this phenomena. Case in point, an email I received from the Associated Director of Basic Research at the Cancer Center which read, “The UNC-FSU men's basketball game can be seen in the Pagano Conference Room starting at noon. Bring your lunch and watch the game.” For those conducting research at any other institution, if you were like me, you would have read this email 5x’s, then saved it, then read it again. We all know that doing anything other than bench work would be blasphemy. Here, it is standard to see the big screens magically appear in the atrium, blasting UNC and non-games to those passing through to catch an update of the score. Pools for brackets overflow from every work environment and big money and big reputations are at stake. Even the boss is in it for blood.

Unfortunately for us UNC fans, our beloved Heels lost in the final four. They put forth an exceptional season and we are all proud of them.

If I haven’t said this before, I’ll say it here, and you can quote me: I love this place. Welcome to basketball heaven. I hope all y’all will join me for next year.