This is one of the last bastions of pure athleticism in America, untainted by politics and wokeness.

The ball is tipped

And there you are

You’re running for your life

You’re a shooting star

And all the years

No one knows

Just how hard you worked

But now it shows

In one shining moment, it’s all on the line

One shining moment, they’re frozen in time

–Dave Barrett’s One Shining Moment

For college basketball fans, the ones who have lit the candles from November through February awaiting the NCAA Tournament’s arrival, the wait is finally over. Advent is finished, and now comes the beauty, artistry, excitement, and drama that is college basketball. Forget the arrival of Spring; March Madness is in its full glory.

(Careful, though, how you use the phrase “March Madness,” as it is a copyrighted NCAA protect. And please, stop laughing.)

David Barrett’s lyrics encapsulate the tournament, which embodies all things that are good, pure, and magical about college athletics: the indefatigable effort, the hand-to-hand competition, the glorious and majestic pageantry, and the crazed fanatical student fans in the stands to cheer their teams.

The sheer athleticism of the players who “play above the hoop” is a marvel. Dribbling a ball while racing up and down the court with blinding speed while at the same time navigating through the arms, legs, and hips of opponents, and then deftly banking their shot off the glass for two points.

Len Elmore, who matriculated at Maryland, played in the NBA, and has been a broadcaster for many years, stated, “One of the reasons why I enjoy college basketball a little more is because of its team orientation as opposed to individual orientation. “

So true.

Image: NCAA brackets time by Will O’Toole at Otoons Cartoons.

Perhaps the most unbelievable team play mastered by kids 17, 18, and 19 years old is the “alley-oop.” That play, a pass-and-dunk on a rebound breakaway sequence, sees a guard, planted firmly on the hardwood, underhands the ball through seeming miles of air with pinpoint precision, while his teammate launches himself into orbit, grabs that orange orb, and then slams it through the basket with a thunderous dunk, all in one motion. This is pure athletic beauty and grace, and it always renders mute spectators and even the bloviating announcers.

The tournament has grown from what was once just an eight-team “invitational” to a multi-billion production. It is a roadshow that lasts three weeks and is played in numerous cities in four time zones and on multiple television channels and streaming services.

The interest and excitement of the event have grown in popularity and revenue because each tournament has a different giant killer. Last year’s David was St. Peter’s University, a tiny Jesuit school in Jersey City. That little team beat two goliaths along the way (Kentucky and Purdue ) and was the darling of the tournament before finally being vanquished by another behemoth, North Carolina.

This year, St. Peter’s has been replaced by Furman University and even Princeton, with each having defeated past NCAA champs Virginia and Arizona. Adding to the madness, number sixteen, Fairleigh Dickinson, slew another Goliath when it defeated number one seed Purdue in a late Friday evening game. That means that, in the last year, three Jersey teams in the last year upended heavily favored schools.

It is a competition based on merit, not equity, in which, on any given night, the team that plays better, commits fewer fouls and turnovers, and obviously scores more points wins.

Fortunately, no politics invade the game. Instead, it is pins-and-needles, nail-biting, white-knuckler athletic drama unfolding with more twists and turns than a Shakespeare play.

When it comes to “people of color,” a rainbow of colors represents the different hues of the individual schools. Students, future alums, and our future American leaders proudly sport their team’s colors of blue, red, or green. They don plastic headgear representing the Arkansas Razorbacks or the Duke Blue Devils.

Whites, Blacks, Asians, and others in the American melting pot make up the rosters on each team based on their talent, not daddy’s millions or affirmative action. They are the elite of their generation, young men who have toiled hours upon hours to perfect their game, earn a scholarship, and participate in an event that has the potential to make the All-Americans multimillions in the NBA and the last player on the bench who hits a last-second shot the Cinderella of the ball.

What you won’t see are Antifa-garbed individuals in the parking lot igniting cars and buildings, and generally creating havoc with another of their countless peaceful protests.

In addition to the players, traveling schools will bring other students to a host campus. Members in the brass band accompanying the winning teams will perform an array of tunes, especially their school’s fight song, to rouse the crowd, all while cheerleaders and costumed school mascots entertain and energize fans with flips, dives, jumps, and chants. All of this helps crowds stand, clap, and cheer the athletes’ unbelievable performance, even as many of those athletes–probably 99% of them–will never see a penny from the NBA.

Yet, like the Super Bowls, lots of money swirls around the games. Office pools abound, ranging from chump change to tens of thousands of dollars. That commerce is just one other measure showing how the college tournament has grown exponentially from eight teams to 68, with the potential that more may be added in the next few years.

Ignore the reality that there is a seedy, dark, and corrupt side to college sports. Where there are many and fame, the tawdry will always follow.

Instead, just allow a little romance to fill your heart and enjoy the roller coaster excitement, from the chills, spills, and thrills of the games. Wax poetic for the winners and have compassion for the fallen. If you do, you will experience the best of March Madness.

Note: Check out the “One Shining Moment” videos, especially from 1989 when my team Seton Hall came up a basket short (UGH!).

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