It's Friday, so that means it's time to check in on preparations for next season's 800 Games Project, the crowdsourced game reporting that will take the place of our own hundreds of attended games and thousands of driven miles. It's pretty much the same thing as we've been doing -- go to a game and write about whatever you witness -- but it's you instead of me. Entries are always accepted through The Form™, and you can attach a Word document or just copy and paste into the box. Before we get to this week's submissions, though, a quick check of what happened last night, via 360.
Season 7 has mostly been about the journey, the lines between stars. It's the last one, so there's been plenty of (unapologetic) reflection too. One of the most satisfying parts of the format has been the ability to go from one place to another, and pass along identifying characteristics that help readers see teams and leagues as something more than entries on a sports ticker. When you tag a place with people and history and thing-ness, it becomes harder to ignore and dismiss. But the flaw in this model is that the traveler never stays long enough to get the whole story, and always ends up with a pile of loosely-joined fragments, no matter how hard they try. It's often best to let the locals tell the tales themselves without a filter; better still to collect these accounts in one place.
The city of Fort Wayne once held a prominent position in Indiana's rich basketball history. For decades, its Memorial Coliseum hosted the opening Monday night games of the sectional round of the single class high school basketball tournament; these were the only games held in the state on that evening, and those contests marked the beginning of a new year of March Madness. In the weeks following, the Coliseum would host the regional and then the semi-state rounds to determine the best team in the northeastern quadrant to send to the state finals in Indianapolis. When I was a kid in the late '70s and early '80s, it was not uncommon for the two or three highest ranked teams in the state to battle on a single day in the Fort Wayne semi-state. The Coliseum was the place all basketball fans wanted to be on those days.
With the controversial advent of class basketball in Indiana in 1998, the high school tournament largely left Fort Wayne for the outlying areas, and the Coliseum was left to host events such as boat shows and the circus in the month of March. Madness indeed. In recent years, basketball has reemerged in the Coliseum to some degree, as it now serves as the home court to both the NBA D-League's Mad Ants (which still sounds like a game I should play on my phone) and the Summit League's IPFW Mastodons. Still, these teams and the local high school basketball squads are consistently outdrawn by the city's minor league hockey, class A baseball, and high school football teams. Fort Wayne - prominent no more, particularly in regards to basketball.
IPFW, and its conference rival to the south, IUPUI, are both offspring of a bizarre union of two bitter rival universities, Indiana and Purdue. On a brisk evening earlier this week, in which the two overhyped "parents" battled on national television, I opted instead to support local basketball and make a trip over to the Coliseum to watch IPFW host the Chicago State Cougars. The visitors are members of the Great West Conference, although after some diligent analysis, I have reached the conclusion that the conference is neither particularly West, nor especially Great.
Upon arriving at my seat, I was quickly greeted by a hearty handshake from the Mastodon mascot. This surprised me initially, although given the sparse attendance of 1,453, I think the woolly one could have greeted each of us individually by the middle of the first half.
The game began with a couple of minutes of intense defense from the Cougars, but this was not long-lasting. The first quarter ended with IPFW leading 19-11, and then the home team proceeded to go on a 29-0 run. After a couple of minutes of relative inactivity, halftime saw the Mastodons with a somewhat unsightly palindromic 51-15 lead. The first half highlight came at the second media timeout, when a young man from the crowd was given the opportunity to win an iPod touch if he could make a free throw, a three-point shot, and a shot from halfcourt within 30 seconds - he missed the first, but hit the second from all three spots and walked off the court to a rousing ovation and a modern piece of technology.
Halftime entertainment consisted of two people in natty red blazers with an extremely thorough sweep of the floor, then a performance from the IPFW band, in which a female clarinet player provided an inordinate amount of pep.
The second half featured more of the same, with the lead growing to 84-29. Fans seated near me spent much of the second half debating whether it was unsportsmanlike to chant "air ball" at a team trailing by more than 50 points. I voted yes, but was deeply in the minority.
Mercifully, the Cougars closed on a bit of a run, narrowing the final score to 95-50. On some nights, Our Game features evenly matched play with significant tension and excitement; on other nights, there are contests like this one. For the home team, this is a small step on a journey to build a program to contend for an automatic NCAA tournament berth - they probably aren't quite there yet, but their progress is evident, and their time will come. For the vanquished visitors, there weren't many positives to take away from here, but the opportunity for redemption will come soon and they must prepare accordingly. Even in its most unappealing forms, I love this game.
- Craig Hanford
Late last Thursday night, as I was putting together last week's 800GP practice post, Gonzaga defeated Portland 67-64 to complete yet another WCC season sweep in a series that hasn't had a Pilot win since 2003. While it's hard to sell any three-point decision as domination, none of the game reports mentioned the halftime flashmob. Or, for that matter, Mauro Potestio.
Two streaks ended the night Gonzaga defeated the University of Portland 67-64, while two more continued. The loss ended a 19-game winning streak at the Chiles Center, which started after another three-point heart-breaking loss 13 months earlier to the same Zags, and extended the Gonzaga win streak in Portland to 16 games.
The other streak broken was the record 898 consecutive home games attended by Mauro Potestio. Mr. Potestio recently received the Ultimate Fan award for his streak and commitment to Pilot athletics, and was honored in a pre-game video. But due to declining health, he did not attend the game.
One streak that did not end was my appreciation for Pilot athletics. The Pilots persevered by rallying from a ten-point deficit with seven minutes left, and came within a timely superhoop of breaking a streak Mauro would have loved to have seen end.
Mr. Potestio embraced and supported the Pilots through his time on campus as a student fan from 1949-54, as the official scorer for basketball for 26 years (1954-80), as the sports information director (1980-88), and a spectator the last 23 seasons. He also served as a coach for the golf teams from 1988 until 2001, and became an unofficial spokesman for Pilot athletics. This Frank Sinatra fan weathered all the storms of Pilot basketball, through the tournament appearances to a decade of more losses than victories, to the recent success under Coach Reveno and his stable coaching staff. Through it all, he wore his signature bow tie (bow ties, as we all know, are cool).
One bright moment came during halftime. The Pilot dance team -- which is Title R compliant -- started performing to "Club Can't Handle Me" by Flo Rida and David Guetta. All of a sudden, I noticed a colleague in student support (who normally sports a painted "P" on his chest at games) replicating their routine in the student section. Others joined him. Then, many in the stands ran onto the court! Our halftime entertainment was a flashmob!
After the game, thousands of Pilot fans, staff members, players and coaches probably walked out of the Chiles Center with their heads down and hearts hurting with all the pain of a two-time loser. Thanks to this site, I know this game always ends in a loss; as an undergraduate part-owner of Our Game, I have a duty to embrace the small victories that each game presents.
Once most of the fans had left -- perhaps to drown their sorrows with two-foot-tall beverage containers -- Jared Stohl, a senior and all-time leading superhooper for the Pilots, was performing his slow walk back to his campus apartment with his head down. I walked over to him and pointed out that the team had managed to overcome mistakes and rally from a ten-point deficit. That was a task that had not been accomplished in either of their last two games up in Spokane.
The quiet, humble and then-despondent superhooper managed to crack a smile. I'm not sure if I gave him something positive or he was placating me, but for a moment, he looked like he had just hit a game-winning superhoop. That smile more than made up for the absence of Mr. Potestio and the previous two hours of ultimately frustrating game play.
Mr. Potestio passed away on Saturday. Please keep the Potestio family and the University of Portland community in your thoughts and prayers. I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Potestio, but his presence definitely added to my pile of good things in my life. I hope that bow ties will soon populate the stands, like the wigs for Dr. Philip Cansler. That's how we honor our long-time band leader who fought cancer and lost. To Mr. Potestio, the event staff, the SID and his staff, former and all who have devoted time and energy to making athletic events on Waud's Bluff possible, thank you!
- Steven Langston
See, I couldn't have written that. There are a lot of stories I've done for various outlets that I really shouldn't have even attempted. The best I can do -- the best any traveling writer can do -- is interview the people, soften the eyes and muster compassion... and then bang the story into a standard, cookie-cutter "human interest" template. It reminds me of the words of an old cynic: "No matter how unique and special you think you are, you're still going to get a grey tombstone like everyone else."
Steven attached a little note: "Thanks again for the opportunity for me to ensure Mr. Potestio is not forgotten as long as the site is archived somewhere on the internet, and readers can remember people like [him who] supported [their teams] unconditionally." I will add something too. The last game he attended before passing on was this, the Pilots' surprising 85-70 home blowout of nationally-ranked Saint Mary's.
Less than two months remain in Season 7. The Epilogue will come, it always does, the circle will close and that will be that. I hope this all makes sense by then. One of the hardest things is to stop trying to be the best in the world at something, and to strive to be the best at staying in one place instead. This is a question that, accidentally or not, lies at the heart of this 800 Games Project. Perhaps we will figure it out together.
There are many people all across Hoops Nation like the late Mauro Potestio, folks unendingly loyal to their schools, who come to the games every time the team is scheduled to play (even though they know that Gonzaga is going to beat their brains in every year). There are younger others starting streaks of their own, who show up and take the wins and losses as they come, and who dance whenever they can.