According to my brackets, the “craziness” of March ends tonight in Phoenix when the newly-crowned champions of college men’s basketball cut down the net.
That I have a bracket sheet does not accurately portray my fan status – I fill in game winners after the fact and just for fun. Truthfully, I am barely a casual fan. I watch not for the play but for the players: their energy, enthusiasm and the thrills they create by leaving it all out on the court.
I first paid attention to “The Big Dance” in 1992 when Duke University won a second consecutive national title. Somehow, Coach K and his players – Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill – stood out. Still memorable are the cocky Laettner’s improbable shot against Kentucky in the East Regional game and the championship contest against Michigan’s Fab Five. Since then, I have watched the tournament off-and-on, more on if Duke or some Ohio team does well. And I am a sucker for a good Cinderella team story.
My earliest basketball memories formed when Danny Kizer and Ronnie Moffitt, among others, donned the orange-and-black of the Concord Bruins. I am not sure I actually saw them play, but the entire school did enjoy the occasional pep rally.
Probably because it was my first year at the high school and I cheered with the Block G sitting directly behind Coach Gene Ray and his team, I recall the 1963-64 Falcon season pretty clearly: Rich Goddard tied Graham’s scoring record of 39 points; Reldon Macy and Dale Brown brought down rebounds galore; Steve Lush broke his hand during a layup; Goddard ultimately smashed his record by scoring 53 points against Bellefontaine. And no Graham Falcon who was there that night will ever forget defeating the Hillclimbers in their own gym.
I remember my senior year, too. At one of our weekly pep rallies, first-year head coach Milt Lewis gave us a talking-to about the importance of school spirit. The season started slowly with seven straight losses, but the Falcons rallied to achieve third place in the MRVL conference.
At Otterbein it was a new experience to eat supper, do some homework and then walk five minutes to the field house to watch the Cardinals shoot hoops. My recollections include fraternity guys ringing the victory bell and games against archrival Capital University.
My return to GHS brought 40 more years of basketball memories that have become tumbled and jumbled in my brain – with certain highlights, to be sure.
In the mid 90’s a whole gaggle of hoopsters – including Steve Setty, Brook Cupps, Matt Middleton, Keith Cunningham – played their hearts out under the coaching of Dave Zeller. Yes, it was exciting to watch them score and rebound and score some more; but I was also impressed by what I often saw after school.
There was always a team waiting to practice in Graham’s one and only, tightly-scheduled gym. Enroute to the parking lot, I frequently threaded my way through an obstacle course of long basketball legs attached to players sprawled all over the hallway – doing homework!
Brook Cupps, after his college years at Capital University, returned to his early stomping grounds to coach the Falcons. It took lots of building and teaching, but coach and team put together a dream year in 2008.
There is a special kind of spirit that ripples through the school and community of a team progressing from a great season through tournament time. Led by Josh Schuler, the GHS team brought home one unbelievable win after another until school closed; and the whole Falcon kit-and-caboodle showed up in Columbus for the semi-final game. That mid-March day ended with tears but also many proud memories that remain undimmed.
Other random recollections pop up at this time of year. When I heard about Dayton Flyers coach Archie Miller’s move to Indiana, my mind spun back to former Dayton coaches Tom Blackburn and Don Donoher. Those were the years when the N.I.T. was THE tournament of the land, back before three-point shots, serious women’s basketball, one-and-done.
Shortly before departure one summer, my student travelers snapped pictures of Randy Ayers and his OSU team, who were also passing through the Columbus airport. In the mid-90’s my statistic-savvy nephew cheered and tracked the stellar but sadly-brief career of his uber-talented Catholic Central classmate, Jason Collier. And I have watched the movie Hoosiers a dozen times, always cheering that small-town Indiana team living out its own dream season.
The basketball coach I most admire is John Wooden, with his storied career at UCLA and practically unmatchable records. More importantly, he taught college guys to be men on the court and in life with wise words including: “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”
A former student of mine offered the same wisdom at an earlier age – words I have never forgotten. An hour’s search through old UDC editions uncovered this 1995 quote by then-senior Kyle Wagner about basketball and teamwork and life: “I’m a practice player for Brook, Matt and Keith to go against. Their game is on Friday nights, my games come during the week in practice. I’m happy with that because it makes our team better.”
And that, dear folks, is what I like about basketball: the stories, the memories, the teamwork, the life lessons – and maybe even a dream or two.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.