I. Something Like His
"Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they're showing you the way."
-Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz
I read an article once saying the purpose of writing was threefold: to inform, to entertain, and to persuade. Good writers could do two of those three, great writers could do all three at once, and amazing writers could do all three and make the reader hardly even realize it when he takes action on the author's persuasion.
I came to the party known as the Mid-Majority somewhat late, the start of Season 7 to be exact. My friends had given it high praise in the past, saying it was a different kind of college basketball coverage than anything I had seen before. With the first essay of Season 7, I was hooked. Who else would have brought to light an eighth of an inch could have changed history? The reminder sat on the website for an entire season, eight pixels between me celebrating in a hotel room in Washington, Penn., and flopping on the bed in sad frustration for a team I had barely known until then but instantly knew I loved.
I discovered what my friends had said about this website to be accurate. The writer, this Kyle fellow I knew little of, came across to me as knowledgeable, confident but not pretentious, assured with a solid dose of humility. He said it himself - he was a niche within a niche writer.
It came as a whisper among the cacophony of the damned choir of media outlets I had started to fall out of love with, a chorus of "LOOK AT ME!" blaring out the quiet, the humble "Look at this, not at me." Like Elijah in the desert, what I wanted wasn't in the earthquake or the fire any more. It came in the whisper.
To say The Mid-Majority is a site just about college basketball would be akin to what the menu at my favorite Mexican restaurant calls their horchata: rice water. Yeah, rice water is in it, but just putting "rice water" is a heinous oversimplification. Cinnamon and milk add spice and sweetness in perfect blend.
The Mid-Majority's spice came from the stories beyond basketball: the players, coaches, and even the traveling scribe who sacrifice health, wealth, love and even life for the sake of the fan watching or reading from the comfort of home. Despite what the banner says, this site is not about college basketball. This sweetness came from the discussion of the essential makings of life itself, the human dilemma in full display. College basketball simply serves as the filter through which we see these things.
Kyle spent seven years of his life using this filter to show us life in a way we hadn't seen before. Through lessons learned on the court, in the locker rooms and on the road between small gyms, we all saw how much the people involved in Our Game loved it, how much he loved it too, and how much he loved writing about it. Watching his love of these deepened my love for the same.
He informed, he entertained, and at the end of Season 7, came the persuasion.
Once during the offseason, Kyle's name came up in a text-message conversation with my friend, Drew, the same who made several trips with me this season and waits in anticipation with us all for the day the Southern Illinois Salukis return to the glory they seem to have misplaced. Drew was somewhat unfamiliar with who this Kyle fellow was, and asked me for a reminder. In a moment of wistful desire, I replied:
"He's the guy who does the Mid-Majority site. If I could pick my life, I would pick something like his."
Without even realizing it, I had joined 121 others who had been persuaded to exactly what he wanted us to do. Pick up his torch, commit to the quest with two simple words, and personally travel roughly the distance between St. Louis, Missouri, and Perth, Australia; all to find out what most of us already knew. The best things are indeed the smallest.
We said "We Will" and together we did.
We saw more than 800 college basketball games in just five months. We traveled the equivalent of nearly four circumnavigations of the earth and wrote 50 percent more words than all those contained in the Oxford English Dictionary.
We informed. Darcy Ireland became the first person I've ever known to connect sixth-century Christian theological writings with a college basketball game. Ian McCormick enlightened us as to the tenuous inner dealings of the South Carolina university system. He also poignantly illuminated the little known, yet previously discussed, issues among the minority within the majority at the Historically Black schools.
We entertained. Raymond Curren invoked the spirit of Poe in his encounter with our dreaded enemy, the black curtain. Ty Clark's "The Parting Glass" introduced Irish poetry into our mix, and from now on I shall use "Good night, and joy be with you all" as a farewell. And in my personal favorite, Craig Hanford channeled his inner Seuss in "Green Eggs and Frank." "I do not like this Frank-he-is.
We just have to shut him down.
If we can stop this Frank-he-is
we'll get a win in this town."
As for persuasion, the examples were much more subtle, but they worked on all of us. We all discovered in our own way just what it means to support the small, for some of us this came at a high cost.II. The Right Kind of History
Friday afternoon came as it usually did, with my friends and I gathered around a table at the sports bar. We had gathered in this spot, or one similar to it, during the third weekend in March every year since 2001. Our purpose: to watch all 48 games of the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament at one time, in one place, together.
Most of the time was spent in a relatively empty bar, and we enjoyed it as it meant relative peace and more control over how we could watch the games. We only saw big crowds on a couple of occasions. When the tournament happened to fall on St. Patrick's Day, we shared the place with a mass of the typical college student amateurs guzzling their green beer and well-shots.
The other occasion came when the Missouri Tigers played their tournament game. This was to be expected as we were in Columbia, Missouri, home of the University of Missouri, my alma mater. All of my friends watching the tournament with me had some tie to Missouri as well.
This Friday afternoon brought a large crowd as expected, people calling it an early week and making their way to the nearest television and beer for the 3:45 tip-off between Missouri, the 2 seed in the West region, and 15-seeded Norfolk State, champions of the MEAC, a team very few people inside this bar knew little about. I had only a faint idea of them thanks this very website.
Little did we know indeed...
After two hours, made shot after made shot, threes matched with threes, rebounds easily grabbed by the "underdog" in this game the Spartans controlled from the tip, it was Missouri, the favorite, the preferred "brand" (in MU's athletic director's words, not mine) of myself and these people gathered in this bar, watching Kyle O'Quinn corral an offensive rebound, lay it in for two points and draw the foul from Matt Pressey in the process. After the made free throw, Norfolk State had a three-point lead with 30 seconds left.
Missouri had blinked.
It wasn't quite over, though. The so-called favorite still had one last chance, down two with the ball, two seconds left, and an inbounds from just beyond the half-court line. During the timeout to set up what would be the last play, tension flowed through the place like lite beer from the taps. In my nervousness, I grabbed my phone and checked my twitter feed.
"OMG THIS IS HAPPENING! GO NORFOLK!"
"We are seeing history here people! Let's go Spartans."
And of course...
"I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!!!"
The world outside these four neon-lit walls wanted the upset. I had split from the group which had sustained me and my travels this season. All of you wanted history. I wanted chalk.
At that moment, a wave of relief washed away my tension and carried it away like so much loose sand, a burden lifted. If Missouri, my team, was going to lose (it ends in losses above the red line, too) why not to Norfolk State? Rarely does someone get to choose on which side of history they will fall. Albeit somewhat reluctantly, I rejoined the "us", the ones who wanted to see the right kind of history, and quietly lifted my head to watch the last play take shape.
I looked up in time to see the inbound pass go to Missouri's sophomore point guard Phil Pressey. He launched a three from the left wing. The fate of two programs hung in the air as the clock moved to zeroes and the horn sounded.
The shot missed to the left. Norfolk State became only the fifth 15-seed to ever beat a 2. The Spartans danced at mid-court as a guttural, primal scream rose from the crowd in the bar. Expletives flew about like hand grenades, tossed without care for their damage or where they may land. Few even thought to acknowledge what we had just seen, one season extended, another cut abruptly short in a magnificently unlikely way. I looked at my friend Rod, shrugged my shoulders and smiled a little. He simply mouthed the word "WOW" and smiled back as we watched the celebration continue on the floor in Omaha.III. The Second Journey (Or, Working on a Mystery)
"The second journey begins when we know we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the morning program. We are aware that we only have a limited amount of time left to accomplish that which is really important - and that awareness illumines for us what really matters, what really counts."
I almost died in Nashville.
I had started the short walk back from an early dinner to my hotel to gather my notebook and make the drive down to Lipscomb's campus to watch their game against Austin Peay, just the fifth game of my journey on the still young season. As I crossed Demonbruen Street, my mind drifted to the evening's plans and I forgot the instructions pounded into my brain by my parents, teachers, and Sesame Street ever since I was but a wee lad: Look BOTH ways when you cross the street!
I made it safely across the lanes of traffic coming from my left, but took two steps out into the two lanes coming from my right before I looked. An SUV quickly approached from roughly half a basketball court's distance.
By grace alone, the driver paid more attention than I did, and was able to slow down enough to prevent what would have been at best a life-altering injury, possibly a life-ending one.
The memory of the moment lingered with me, followed me throughout my travels. The questions laid in wait on the edges of dark, empty Illinois cornfields, hovered over the waters of the San Francisco Bay, danced among the clouds in the evergreens of the Pacific Northwest. Waiting for a moment of weakness, the most brief moment of distraction, they would strike.
"What if you had died there on that street in Nashville? What would you have to show for your existence?"
The catalyst for change most often thrusts itself upon the unsuspecting in the form of a diagnosis, the actions of another, or a threat, real or perceived. In our game, coaches get fired, players get hurt, fans move on from the game. We all see change in different forms. I saw my change in the front grill of a Jeep Cherokee.
Rare is the person who has the luxury to decide when to start the next part of their life, or at the very least knows when the time will come. In Our Game, we have a taste of said luxury. The Beautiful Season is well defined, beginning with onset of winter's chill and ending in the warming sun of spring.
For those actively involved in basketball, the moment of change is also clearly defined. With the final horn's sounding at the end of the loss we know will come, journey one instantly ends while journey two instantly begins. We honor players for their four years of commitment to the game we love and wish them well on the next leg, men like Kyle Weems at Missouri State, Justin Bocot and Mamadou Seck at Southern Illinois, Zack Rosen at Penn, Ronald Nored at Butler, and the even lesser-knowns, the walk-ons like Matt Dorwart at Creighton.
The first journey relies on discovery and experience. We venture out, see what the world has in store for us, and soak in all we can. The young person sets out to see the world, to start to gather knowledge and do his level best to impart some along the way. We set out together to see 800 college basketball games in one season, and we did. We all have a unique set of experiences on which we may draw.
The second journey, then, becomes about applying meaning to what we experienced the first time through. It may be as simple as applying new standards to what you're already doing. It may also mean scrapping the entirety of your identity and re-starting at page one. Sometimes I think my life, the second journey I feel I'm on the cusp of, will require such a re-start. I'm not sure when or where, and I will make no grand statement as to the future of my life in this essay, but I am confident my life will soon not resemble anything like it's been before. I know people naturally have trouble changing, but the forces repelling me from the way I am and the calling toward the new are both equally strong.
As the wisest of poets once said: "There's something good waiting down this road.
I'm picking up whatever is mine."
For our collective second journey, I encourage you to make this all about meaning as well. We now know where our gyms are, where our teams play, and have met them in at least a cursory manner. We have the basic questions answered. Your purpose for Season Nine is to answer the toughest question: WHY? Why do these athletes play against such steep odds? Why do the coaches do the same? Why do you and other fans accept and applaud your teams? Why is a certain school's pep band so good? Why are red-headed cheerleaders the best? Answer these questions for yourselves, discover the meaning hidden in even the simplest moments, then share it with all of us who will read and appreciate your revelations.
Two things excite me most about what the ninth season of the Mid-Majority will bring. First, there is no quantity attached to this next go-around. Season Nine is NOT the 900 Game Project, at least not officially. If we do hit 900, and it is entirely possible, what a testament to our resolve it would be. Instead of sheer mass, what I hope we will be looking for is quality, which we find in short supply among the descriptions of our game by other media. We have the opportunity to add meaning to the game, and hopefully will able to show that meaning to the masses.
The second intriguing difference coming in Season Nine is a simple change in pronoun. Our credo during this season's journey has been "I believe that we will win," simplified down to our primary assertion, the strenuous cry: I WILL. Brennan Manning states before the second journey can begin, the focus must always shift from the individual to the group, be it a small community or the world at large. Season Nine, our second journey as a group, makes such a shift. Next season, the focus changes: WE are, together. It's a small tweak in syntax, but a sea-change in philosophy, one much needed in today's prevalent mindset.IV: Yet
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill'd with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew'd,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring - What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Recently, the union who represents me and the company I work for came to terms on a new bargaining agreement which dictates the conditions my colleagues and I will work under for the next three years. From what I understand, the negotiations were fierce, and many feelings were hurt. The same managers we once thought were our friends turned on us with a proverbial blade aimed straight at our throats. The cuts we took were deep: less pay, less flexibility in scheduling, and among it all the real possibility of layoffs in the near future. Despite the ten years of experience I've put in, the hours of high stress I've given for low reward, management feels the job I do can be done by anyone with the right equipment and minimal training. Quality matters little if at all. All that matters is quantity at the lowest available cost.
This situation is not unique to my field; it is prevalent throughout this culture. We have been told by the 3,000-plus advertisements we see every day what we want is the same and it can be easily provided to us because it is mass produced. When we tire of it, the product is expendable, and the next hot thing is readily available.
The concept of expendability now applies to the most precious product: people. However subtly and indirectly we may hear it, the message somehow became such as the individual does not matter, because there are likely thousands just like you. They can do what you do. They can do it better, or at least cheaper.
The Mid-Majority has always been keenly counterculture. Every person involved is important. No one here is expendable. You matter. Your voice matters.
Without each one of you, our goal would not have seen fruition. With just a few more than 800 recaps in our final tally, we could not have afforded to lose a single one. Funny how it worked out that way, huh? Our project would have lacked not just in quantity, but quality. Each person's perspective, each one's experiences, added a unique flavor to this basketball stew, and each one could be savored individually or as a whole together.
So, thanks are in order. The first and deepest thanks go to all 122 writers who contributed to the project with your recaps. Special laud is in order for our "Half Century Club" members, Matt Cayuela, Gary Moore, and Ian McCormick. I only ended up with more miles because I had the blessings of time, finance, and a couch I could crash on in San Francisco. You gentlemen took the concept of seeing games to the utmost. Matt's astounding 66 games, two-thirds of a personal 100 gamer, may be a record for all time.
Next, thanks goes to the people who made this fiscally possible. I do not have the full list of subscribers handy, but I know who I am, you know who you are, and we all thank you for the continued support. Of course, all of you shouldered the burden of travel, so you have all contributed in your own way and gratitude is due there as well.
Thank you to the editing team who gave up so much time and effort to make our recaps look good, even in the wee hours of the morning. Thanks especially to Jen Ahearn (@800GP) who coordinated our efforts and encouraged us to taste the snozzberries by offering the Golden Ticket, the first of which I was humbled and delighted to receive. Let us continue to be the music makers and the dreamers of dreams.
Thank you, Kyle Whelliston, for starting this website. Thank you for loving it, your readers, college basketball and the stories it provides so much you would rather see us carry it on rather than pack it up and take it away from us all. The most loving creator is one who is willing to not only let others enjoy what he has created, but to eventually let those same others have dominion over it. We can only hope we have done the Mid-Majority name proud now and in future seasons, how ever many more Providence seems fit to give.
On a personal level, I wish to thank all of you who read and hopefully enjoyed my recaps. Thank you more to those who clicked the like button, or left an approving comment, or the few who even re-tweeted the link with a comment along the lines of "A good read" or "You should see this."
All of the writing manuals and websites I've read always say the best writer is one who writes for himself, not worrying about what the reader will think or how it will be received. It's a noble concept to ponder on, but it's bullsh*t. Every creative effort is at least partially ego-driven. The amount of confidence needed to overcome the resistance plotting against you grows with each work. Such confidence comes from knowing whether the reader appreciates his work. Before this season, I could count on one hand the times anyone had said of anything I had ever done, "Hey, come take a look at this. This is good." My confidence in my writing, and in the direction of my life really, stood at near zero before Season Eight began, has grown exponentially during, and at the end stands stronger than ever. As poet Nikki Giovanni once said, "We are better than we think we are, and not quite what we want to be."* * * *
One of my favorite discoveries from this season is the Butler Way, the philosophy under which my newest favorite team operates.
"The Butler Way demands commitment, denies selfishness and accepts reality, yet seeks constant improvement while promoting the good of the team above self."
The phrase works in all aspects of life, not just basketball. But there are three words here which stood out to me the most when I first read it, and they have rolled around in my mind since, because they're words you almost never see in a self-affirming phrase such as this. They're almost hidden in there, but to me stand out more than any other.
"...accepts reality, yet..."
Reality has been Butler's worst enemy over the past three seasons. It has told them they cannot reach the peak, regardless of how close they came. Reality has dealt them The Loss twice just shy of the apex. In this latest campaign, reality ushered them quietly back into the realm they had once known, the one where conference tournament wins are a must rather than a luxury. Reality, or others' perception thereof, will keep them there, but hopefully not for long.
This season's reality was not especially kind to us, either. The fates have almost spoiled us really, giving us two previous seasons of unreal success, only to return to business as usual. After two teams finally climbed the wall to reach the Final Four in 2011, that wall seemed to become that much higher in 2012. Ohio alone carried our banner in to the second weekend of the tournament. In my hometown, my city by the muddy river, the Bobcats fought with steely resolve against a mighty foe, taking them to the very brink. But again, reality swooped in and took its familiar place at our table. A free throw off the mark, then a buzzer beater missed and we were brought back to the world we know.
Yet, the Bulldogs accept it. The Bobcats accept it. All of the teams in Our Game do also. We must accept it as well. Because, there's always the yet. It represents moving on, despite the harshest reality. Even if it were different, if the eighth of an inch adjustment had been made, if the parade had happened, if the banner in Hinkle Fieldhouse read something other than "Finalist," the yet remains the same. It takes the focus off what has happened, and places it squarely back where it should be. What happened will not matter soon, because memory is short.
The task remains the same: Make yourself and your team better. Even with reality against us, the opportunity will come again. When we are facing reality�s toughest competition once more, we have but one thing to rely upon: we believe that we will win.
As for this season, I believe that we have won. Let's do it again soon. Together.* * * *
At this time, we'd like to thank all those who went beyond "I Will" and helped make The Mid-Majority's eighth season possible by becoming supporting Members. These are the closing credits.
An enormous Season 8 thank you to Thomas Feely, Joshua Leggette, John Templon, Ben Case, Todd Falkenberg, Kraig Williams, Tom Felice, Timothy Burke, Steve Timble, Charles Flint III, Andrew Fielding, Nelson Parker, Gary Moore, Trent Redden, Dwight Strayer, Frank Vitale, Pierce Greenberg, Alex Norris, D Coffman, Chris Palmer, Craig Hanford, Timothy Gaige, Michael Greiner, Ed Lass, Tyler Drake, Charles LaPlante, Nick Wynne, Robert Vidal, Terry Hobgood, Kevin Whitaker, Robbie Simkins, Jon Hildebrand, Daniel McQuade, Ryan Weicker, Charles Cochrum, James Prebil, Eric Reyes, Garrett Wheeler, Max Wasserman, Travis Mason-Bushman, Rhett Butler, Darin Keener, Donovan Potts, Tony Carlucci, Jeff Grubb, Cameron Rhoten, Ronald DiPaola, Andrew Gerbosi, William P. Harty, Jr., Dustin Allan German, Daniel Bradley, Christian Skogen, Mike Pettinato, Mark Giganti, Chris Dobbertean, Jimmy Timble, Ross Lancaster, Michael Petre, Michael Fountain, Darcy Ireland, Charles Fenwick, John Ezekowitz, Matthew Whitrock, Gerritt Hinnen, Brendon Mulvihill, Christopher Coffee, Hillel Soifer, Jeff Carvell, Ryan Magee, Samuel Wasson, Ty Clark, Shep Hayes, William Bohn, John Willmott, Jeff Pojanowski, Daniel Fuertges, Todd Hoppe, Patrick Byrnett, Gidal Kaiser, Nicholas Eckert, Heath Florkey, Bruce Bosley, Scott Voiss, Jonathan Morales, Matt Konrad, Griffin Pulliam, Dominic Pody, Michael Peplow, Andrew Baker, David Bykowski, Allan Lewis, Seth Hunt, Ben Kennedy, Bryon McKim, Kevin Prigge, Bill Daniels, Brendan Loy, Jen Ahearn, Joshua Guiher, Jeffrey Fitzwater, Geoff Brault, Shankar Duraiswamy, Adam Sonnett, Nicholas Reiner, Steven Langston, Paul Hampson, Brandon Steenson, Afi Ahmadi, Mike Miller, Catlin Bogard, Andrew Stern, Thomas Antonucci, Edward Pelle, Dennis Bretz, Mark Riley, Dan O'Connell, Julia Prior, David Earl, Chris Crowley, Mike Etheridge, Brendan Devitt, James Squire, John M Lee, Carl Tinkham, Jonathan Tannenwald, Michael Hadley, Greg Shaheen, Sam Tydings, Alex Keil, Zach Bloxham, Trevor Rockhill, Bob Fisch, Aaron Hanshaw, Davis Holt, Matt Carey, Allie Kline, Matthew Paul, Brandon Hickey, Nick Catrambone, Cortney Basham, Robert Roberts, Casey Collier, Joshua McCauley, Patrick Netherton, Emily Thiel, Brian Nguyen, Rhett Umphress, Gail Roche Van Wye, Ross Righter, Chris West, Jim Dingeman, Ron Julia, Chris Wirthwein, Joe Geyer, Zach Taylor, Thomas McCaffrey, Kyle Rossi, Jon Veen, and Charles Flint IV. None of this would have been possible without you.
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