Basketball lovers, and there are a lot of us here in west central and northwest Ohio, are heading into our favorite time of the year.
For basketball aficionados, it doesn’t get much better than the next few weeks. The OHSAA high school basketball tournaments are in full swing with the girls beginning their state tournament and the boys heading into regional play to see who earns those coveted spots in Columbus. The NCAA basketball tournament also begins in a week and if I had a dollar for every person in this country who fills out their own tournament bracket sheet, I could buy my own NBA franchise.
My personal favorites are the basketball games played at the high school regional tournament level. Those games just seem to provide more drama and excitement. Part of that is due to the pressure of knowing a berth at state is on the line. It is especially exciting for schools and coaches who are looking for their first trip to Columbus. More often than not, the pressure and spotlight on the regional stage brings out the best in athletes and coaches and results in memorable games played at a high level.
Another feature I enjoy about regional tournament games is the teams are almost always new to one another and it’s a treat for fans to see how their squads match up with the cream of the crop from another area. Often in sectional and district play the teams are very familiar with one another and many have even competed in the same league. Because those opponents know each other so well, the games can become chess matches as the players and coaches anticipate every move and adjustment made on the basketball court. Those games can sometimes slow to a crawl.
But regional games are often wide open affairs. Regionals in northwest Ohio are played at the Stroh Center on the campus of Bowling Green State University, a great venue for fans and players. The referees assigned to regional games are some of the best in Ohio and usually come from a different region of the state and are unfamiliar to local fans. That is a bonus. When you include the fact almost every team advancing to regional play has at least a couple of elite players, the combination of elements can produce basketball worth watching.
I’ve also enjoy observing the impact a school’s fan base can have in a long tournament run. In the first place, the size of a team’s crowd grows at each step along the tournament trail. By the time a team reaches the regionals, its following can double in size and passion. I think this is especially true in our area of the state as fans from neighboring communities and league partners jump on the band wagon. Everybody loves a winner and these late arrivals are always welcomed aboard.
I spent a lot of time coaching my teams to focus only on the action on the playing floor but ignoring the fans in big tournament games is not easily accomplished. And some crowds were a lot more difficult to ignore.
I remember the Napoleon High School crowds that followed them a few decades ago when they were on a tremendous run of talent and tournament success. They had a student who would walk down the court on his hands wearing giant clown shoes with “Go Napoleon” printed on the bottom. By the time he finished walking the court, the huge Napoleon fan base was at full voice and the gym would be shaking. I was always relieved when we played them at Ohio Northern University because fans there sit far from the court and the crowd noise is not quite the factor it is in other gymnasiums.
The tournament venue can make a huge difference when it comes to crowd noise. If you don’t believe that, try playing Ottawa-Glandorf in a district game at the Elida Fieldhouse. The stands there are right on top of the court and the acoustics guarantee the sound levels will register on the Richter scale. Watching the O-G faithful rise in concert following a big play there was like witnessing a volcano erupt.
I hope all basketball fans appreciate how much poise and confidence it takes for young athletes to play in these pressure packed environments. I am reminded of this every time I watch a professional golfer back away from his tee shot, annoyed because someone broke the silence by sneezing three fairways over. Then, compare that to the young basketball player who has to step to the free throw line in the closing seconds of a tight tournament game with every fan in the gym standing and screaming at the top of their lungs.
Remember that the next time you feel unhappy or distressed over the performance of a player or coach of your favorite team. As bad as you feel, you can bet the players and coaching staff are hurting at a far higher level.
Show them, and all the athletes and coaches competing in the tournament, the respect they deserve.
Bob Seggerson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org..