Coming into this game at Charleston Southern, High Point was 10-15 and 6-9 in Big South play. That is not too bad of a record, and some of the schools in Our Game would be much improved to have a record such as that. But it also isn't a record that most fans would get excited about. This is not new territory for the Panthers, which since I graduated in 2008 were 46-69 going into this Saturday night game. For HPU fans, basketball is our sport since we do not have American-style football. The struggles of the basketball team can make it difficult to gain fan support for a small school without football.
Many fans of teams such as High Point often head off in lean times to more successful teams. But as of right now, all the basketball teams I follow are struggling, and HPU may be better off than my other teams. My favorite team above the Red Line is my grad school, South Carolina, which has won as many games against teams above the Red Line as it has losses to teams below it (two of each). I also follow my dad's alma mater, Southern Illinois, which is in ninth out of ten in the Missouri Valley. The Salukis suffered an early season Black Line Upset to Ohio Dominican, which is in last place in its Division II conference. My favorite NBA team is the Charlotte Bobcats, which are the worst team in that league. I know that come March the only teams I will root for are the schools of Our Game in the NCAA tournament, since the death of the season will have certainly come to all the teams I follow.
I was much luckier with baseball season last year. High Point was only mediocre, but South Carolina won its second straight national title. The high school I graduated from several years ago won its state baseball championship. My favorite MLB team, the Tampa Bay Rays, made a run to the playoffs. My dad's favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals, had an improbable journey to the World Series title. But for the most part, I do not root for teams that are successful. I think in large part that is because I select my teams based on personal interests rather than how popular a team is. And for most sports teams, it
From having met other sports fans and reading Internet sports discussions, there generally are two types of fans. One group of fans will always support their team and do so in a manner that tries to put a positive spin on their struggles. Every bad result is a fluke or part of a bigger picture that will ultimately lead to future success. These fans make excuses for why their team struggles and insist that in the future they will be winners. Some fans in this group have lower expectations for their teams and view what some would consider small accomplishments to be major.
There is another group of fans that abandons their team. When their team loses, they give up. They may express their frustration or simply stop caring. "We have a basketball team?" is a common joke among fans at schools whose basketball team is highly prone to losing. Or perhaps their team did win in the past, with another coach who moved on to a higher paying job. They will then frequently complain about how things just aren't what they were when another coach was around. Either way, this type of fan is most loyal to a team when they win.
I try to take neither approach to being a fan. I want High Point to win the Big South, and with men's basketball being the school's lone revenue sport, competition from other sports on campus should not hold the basketball team back. Yet the Panthers are far from obtaining this goal. And next season will be even tougher with this year's best players, Shay Shine and Nick Barbour, graduating. HPU has an experienced team but has played inconsistently. So unlike the first group of fans, I will not try to "sugarcoat" our struggles this season. There are times I would like to see the school try to make changes to help the basketball team as quickly as possible, but when thinking rationally, I know there is no easy solution. Shortly after I graduated, the HPU administration made a series of quick decisions
to help move athletics toward a quick path of success. Among these was the firing of men's basketball coach Bart Lundy. Looking back at this, it was not a good idea to fire a coach who was rebuilding with a young team. And that situation is what Scott Cherry will be facing next year. My hope is that our fans can still support Cherry and his players, while wanting them to win. Certainly there are coaches looking to make quick fixes for their programs, accepting players dismissed from schools above the Red Line and other transfers. This type of strategy led to the scandal at Binghamton, and that school is paying dearly for its quick fixes to win the America East. So while I and many of my fellow fans have a hard time doing so, we must accept that the path to success will be long and hard.
Unlike the second group of fans, I will still support the High Point Panthers. Doing so is tough, and many of my fellow recent alums have showed little interest in the team. My message board on High Point sports has had much slower activity this season than in the past. A lot of our fans have graduated, and without a successful team to hold on to, they stop caring.
For that reason, I decided to make the 90-minute trip from my house to North Charleston to see High Point play Charleston Southern. There were plenty of other games I could have gone to locally. I could have gone to two games if I had gone to the city of Charleston by going to College of Charleston at 3 p.m. and the Citadel at 7 p.m. I could have gone to USC Upstate at 2 p.m. and Presbyterian at 7 p.m., as fellow author Matt Cayuela
did. But I stuck with the 5:30 p.m. game at CSU. I had to see High Point play to maintain my loyalties. And I am unusual in regards to how I carry out these loyalties. I get too nervous seeing my team play on television, so I hardly ever watch an entire game on TV when I have a rooting interest. I often feel I can enjoy a game better when I do not care about who wins. Sometimes I wish I could disconnect from all loyalties and become a fan of the game. Kyle did this fairly well in his writings. I have thought about taking a similar path, yet I still care about High Point more than any other team.
Going to a game that I care about enables me to better connect with Our Game. The motto for this season is "All of Us, Each of Us". I care very much about the "All" part and in my travels try to visit as many places as possible to have a better understanding of all of us. But the "Each" part involves us and our identity in Our Game. Since we are not direct participants, we latch on to teams connected with our schools. And this connection gives greater meaning to seeing how we all connect with one another. I like to use the "Game Paths
" page on the Massey Ratings website to try to connect various unlikely teams in all of college basketball, through wins and losses as well as scheduling (type in cb2012 for season to do comparisons for this basketball season). All of us are connected, whether it is Our Game, above the Red Line or below the Black Line. The schedule of North Carolina's JV program
fascinates me, as it includes community colleges and high schools. This can potentially connect Our Game with a huge variety of different levels of play. When I attend a game at any level, I record it in my statistical database
and connect all the basketball games I go to with one another. Seeing how High Point fits in this big world is part of why I go to the games.
And almost all of us will ultimately lose. And everything goes beyond basketball as well. We will always strive to have goals in our daily lives that we keep getting higher and higher. Most of the time, we will not meet these goals and therefore lose. When we meet these goals, we will set higher goals and at some point ultimately fail. So we have to accept in the grand scheme of all these connections that we will lose. So going into this game at Charleston Southern, I had to accept that even with a win Thursday at Coastal Carolina that High Point would likely still lose tonight. At least I did see HPU win in four of six previous games this year, so there are flashes of excellence.
When I got to CSU Field House waiting for the ticket office to open, a CSU faculty member gave me a free ticket. They had been giving away tickets at a nearby restaurant, and he did not need it since he could get in with his faculty ID. I have gotten free tickets before from a woman I knew from high school who works at CSU, but this was a new way to get in free. My ticket was general admission, which meant I could not sit with the small number of High Point fans, which was almost entirely the team pass list behind the bench. So I decided to sit courtside in the bleachers at midcourt with the CSU fans, as is life as a road fan
. This seat is among the closest you will get to the action in Our Game, as I was only five feet from the sideline boundary on the court. Sitting to my left was Jamarco Warren, a former CSU player who is still at the school finishing his degree. Warren had a history of hitting big shots against the Panthers, so I was happy that he was sitting by me rather than on the court.
The game got under way, and the Panthers got off to a good start. Barbour and Shine were making shots, and HPU had no problem with the CSU defense. But the Bucs also had no problem with our defense either. Defense has often been an issue for the undersized Panthers this season, and I expected Charleston Southern to come out firing from behind the arc. They did, and ended up shooting 39 3s on the game. They made only 14 of them but got second-chance baskets off several of the misses. High Point was ahead 41-39 at halftime, and I knew we would have to come out stronger in the second half to win on the road.
AT HALFTIME, I FINALLY GOT TO SPEAK TO JOE WRIGHT, WHO HAD COME OVER FROM COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON'S BIG UPSET WIN OVER DAVIDSON
EARLIER IN THE AFTERNOON. JOE HAS RESPONDED TO SOME OF MY TWEETS IN THE PAST, BUT I HAD NEVER GOTTEN THE CHANCE TO TALK TO HIM IN PERSON. IN THE CRAMPED SPACE OF CSU FIELD HOUSE, IT WAS HARD TO KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING, AS PEOPLE IN THE STANDS BEHIND US WANTED TO SEE THE HALFTIME SHOW. SO I HEADED BACK TO MY SEAT AND SAW A GREAT HALFTIME SHOW.
THE HALFTIME SHOW WAS TWO TEAMS OF LOCAL KIDS PLAYING BASKETBALL. I DID NOT HEAR THEIR AGE GROUP, BUT THEY COULD NOT HAVE BEEN OLDER THAN 12. YET THESE KIDS PLAYED ALMOST AS GOOD AS HIGH SCHOOL PLAYERS. THE CROWD WENT NUTS WHEN ONE OF THE PLAYERS SPLIT TWO DEFENDERS WITH A SPIN MOVE WHILE BEING CORNERED ON THE SIDELINE AND PROCEEDED TO LAUNCH A PERFECT PASS OVER HIS SHOULDER TO LEAD TO A TWO-ON-ONE BASKET. THE APPLAUSE THESE PLAYERS GOT FROM THE CSU STUDENTS WAS GREATER THAN WHAT THE BUCS RECEIVED DURING THE GAME. A GROUP OF STUDENTS EVEN PULLED A FEW PLAYERS FROM THE WINNING TEAM ASIDE AFTER THE HALFTIME GAME TO HAVE THEIR PICTURE TAKEN WITH THEM. THIS MAY HAVE BEEN THE GREATEST APPRECIATION FOR YOUTH SPORTS I HAVE SEEN GIVEN BEFORE.
But then the second half started, and it was back to our featured game. CSU took the lead early in the second half, and once High Point's shots stopped falling, the Bucs appeared to pull away. HPU trailed by 13 points with five minutes to play. But Shine still had some big shots in him, and the Panthers finally got defensive stops. And all of the sudden, HPU with 20 seconds left had the ball with a chance to take the lead. But Barbour, who had just scored his 2,000th career point, could not come through in the clutch and missed a 3 with 12 seconds left. The Panthers sent the game's leading scorer to the line in CSU's Mathiang Muo (whose name almost looks like Mud when spelled out on the back of his jersey). He hit two free throws, and HPU could not respond with a 3. HPU had come close but lost 70-67.
Close losses are the hardest part of losing. You have a chance to actually win, and then you come up short. To have lost even closer by losing at the buzzer or losing a big lead like CSU could have been even more painful to take. In one of my classes I took at South Carolina on organizational behavior, we watched the famous video of Randy Pausch's Last Lecture on YouTube
. Pausch, a terminally ill cancer patient on the faculty of Carnegie Mellon, recalled the lessons his youth football coach taught him about caring and investment in others. "If somebody isn't telling you that you could do better, they have given up". In these close losses, we keep telling our teams to do better and feel as frustrated as they do when they come up short of winning. But we continue to persist in our passion, even as bandwagon fans and members of the media ignore these teams that lose. Losing takes a whole other meaning when you do
give up hope.
When I was nearly 10 years old, I played for a baseball team that lost all 14 of its games by an average of more than ten runs per game. The soccer team at the junior college I interned at last fall lost all 14 of its games by at least four goals. Being involved with teams brings a different meaning for losing. When I was on that baseball team, I celebrated when I drew a walk and even occasionally scored a run. When I took pictures for that soccer team as part of my social media internship, a goal by the home team was a rare moment of celebration. I always looked forward to the games knowing that I would be seeing a soccer game that actually had frequent scoring -- even if it was by the other team. When my mom was a fan of the Cleveland Indians growing up in the 1960s, she said she celebrated every nice catch knowing that hoping for a win was unrealistic. For most of our losing teams that come close, we hope to see the occasional success and hope that someday it leads to when we can finally storm the floor in March. This is what we take from losing.