Basketball in Kentucky - local culture

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The N.C.A.A. men's basketball tournament bracket filled out at the local library.  It was done as a part of a reading "project" by 8 and 9 year olds.

20 March 2005

As you may (or not) know, basketball is big out here in Kentucky.  Although there are no professional teams in the state (or in Cincinnati Ohio - which my community is in a suburb of), people are fanatical of their high school and especially college basketball teams.  People pick sides, and are militant in their support.  As I live in Taylor Mill, which is in Northern Kentucky but a suburb of Cincinnati Ohio, people in the community are torn between their Kentucky roots and the draw of the greater Cincinnati metro area.  My neighbors give each other a hard time, even during the off season.  Some families are split.  A wife may be a Bear Cat’s fan (University of Cincinnati) and the husband a Wild Cat’s fan (University of Kentucky), meaning that their kids end up wearing a mixture of the two teams uniforms.  To add to the fanaticism, the Bear Cat’s and Wild Cat’s hadn’t actually played each other in 14 years.  Locals explain this peculiarity by first giving me an odd, “you’re a dumb ass”, kind of look . . . then continuing on to rationalize how the teams play in different conferences and how both teams like to pad their schedule with easy teams, of which neither opponent would be.  Enter “March Madness”.  College basketball’s 20 day tournament, in which the top 64 teams in the country have a playoff to determine the best team.  All of this is background for the big event last night. 

My neighbor kids (8 and 9 year olds) started talking about the potential match up between the two schools on the afternoon the N.C.A.A. announced the seeding for “March Madness” (a week ago), which in itself shows the level of fanaticism.  Apparently, they enthusiastically informed me, the Wild Cat’s and Bear Cat’s could meet in the second round of the tournament if both teams won their first game.  The neighborhood was abuzz with this potential “happening”.  When both teams won their first round games, the whole community/metro area caught the fever.  It was like the Rose Festival was happening in Portland and the Trail Blazers were hosting game 7 in the finals. 

On the day before the heavy weight bought, I took Sierra and Cooper to the park.  Even the kiddy play area wasn't immune to the hysteria of the big game.  As I was pushing Cooper in a toddler swing, two housewives started razzing each other.  They were both proudly wearing team jerseys from the opposing schools (don’t those jerseys cost $100 each . . . who buys those things?), and finished their spirited debate with a friendly $20 wager.

The neighborhood husbands who were fanatical (you know . . . the one’s who have jerseys), stopped talking to the opposing side neighbors.  They separately confided in me the afternoon before the game (as I am a neutral “dumb ass”), that they were afraid of their team being embarrassed by the other.  My neighbors independently explained that because the teams don’t play each other, and they don’t play in the same conference (the teams that one school plays over the year never play the other), there was no way to really compare the two.  Nothing would be worse, they said, than to have their team blown out and have to endure 14 (or potentially more) years of razzing from the their arch rivals fans, and especially from their neighbors.  The neighborhood was definitely divided.

There was so much hype about the Bear Cat’s - Wild Cat’s match up, that after I put Sierra and Cooper down for the night; I stayed up past my bed time to watch the game.  After a quick start by Kentucky (11-0), I found myself rooting for my perceived under dog, Cincinnati.  Cincinnati took the lead near the half, and the game went back and forth until near the end.  Kentucky pretty much clinched it with 2 minutes to go.  The game was very exciting to watch, as the college players showed so much more emotion than their professional counterparts.  In the end, the score was a bit misleading compared to the game that had been played, 69 – 60 Kentucky.

I’m sure that Doug (my neighbor who is a fanatical supporter of University of Cincinnati) will be able to show his face without being razzed on our street some time late this summer.

~~ Epilogue ~~

I got so caught up in "March Madness" that I entered the lottery for "Final Four" tickets for the 2006 tournament in Indianapolis.  As luck would have it, I won!  Elaine and I had a great time getting caught up in the hysteria surrounding the event from our pigeon heaven seats for both the Final Four and Championship games.


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