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March Madness

Helen D. Gunderson
Ames, Iowa

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RHS Class of 1963 and Web Site Editor

Written on March 8, 2001

As I write, I have been listening to the Iowa State women's basketball game in the semi-final round of the Big 12 tournament. (They won to advance to the finals on Saturday night ... the third year in a row that the Cyclone women have made it to the championship game. Last year they won.) 

"March Madness" is upon us. If you have basketball anecdotes or reflections, you can send them to me to put in the essay section. And there are plenty of basketball photos to view in our gallery.

Of course, not everyone (including me) lives and dies basketball. So that's why we've also included "sports, games, play, and the imagination" in the theme. Perhaps you would like to write about games you enjoyed during your school days or chants you sang while jumping rope or playing hopscotch. Or perhaps you have thoughts about the the difference between kid's play when you were a child compared to how youth use their free time today. 

It seems that few young people these days play pickup games, for instance softball or baseball, in an empty lot simply for the fun of the game. Instead, their play is highly organized. 

I miss the softball games we hosted after church for neighborhood friends in our big yard on the farm with a grass waterway and trees in the outfield. The memories of those days remind me of what Don Grant (class of 1936) has said about the weekly baseball games that boys would play in his dad's pasture in Roosevelt Township. They used steel disks for bases, and their diamond faced Lizard Creek where it was one heck of a job to find the ball after a player hit a home run. 

I am also reminded of the essays written by Bob Ranney and Jerry Rickard, both of the class of 1961, when they talk about the rivalry in Rolfe between the "Jets" and "Sneakin' Injuns." There are other essays on related subjects such as the one by Sally and Stu Webb about creating the "Rendezvous" in uptown Rolfe for recreation during 1940s.

Many of the other essays also address similar themes, but I will let you explore them on your own since I don't have a subject index nor am I like some librarians who used to be able to point me to the perfect book to read. (Perhaps our theme some month should be that of books and reading.)

Perhaps you could write about the role of the imagination in your life. Who fostered your imagination? What were your creative endeavors? How has your imagination helped in the midst of difficulties? It's fine to get excited about basketball, but let's not forget the need we have for playfulness and imagination. Often, when we think our choices are limited, they aren't. And that's where the imagination comes into play and can expand our perceptions. It's a circle ... playfulness leads to imagination and vice versa. In the 1970's book The Ultimate Athlete, George Leonard says so many people are mesmerized by sport because the players are mirrors that reflect the fan's own inner dancer which is the ultimate athlete.

I am reminded of a circular concrete slab covering the underground coal bin next to our farm house when I was a child. It's where Mother taught me how to bounce a red, white, and blue ball. As I grew older, I realized the natural extension of bouncing that ball was basketball, and I got serious about the sport (unfortunately, not successful at it). 

I've been smitten in the past by March madness, and I have had my share of basketball idols. However, nowadays, I can't believe the amount of booing, baiting, and other acts of incivility that go on at basketball games. And I can't believe the extent to which our nation has become a spectator society. Although I follow Iowa State women's basketball by reading about the team in the paper, listening to some of the games on radio, and occasionally going to Hilton Coliseum, I've taken the sport of basketball off the pedestal that I held it on for many years. 

I wish I could say I have recovered a sense of play in my own life. The closest I come is a good walk or a game of scrabble with friends using three sets of letters and boards. I have also grown to appreciate yoga and free form movement (somewhat akin to tai chi) in my parlor with the warmth of the sun coming through the south window on a winter day. Often I find myself moving in profound ways as though I am caring for and dancing with a golden ball the size of the ball that Mother taught me to bounce. And I would like to say I am cultivating a healthy imagination ... it certainly helps with my photography and with expanding my sense of options in life. 

You might want to check out Jerry Farlow's essay about his basketball endeavors from the days he was a young tyke at Rolfe to now when he is a math prof at the University of Maine. And you can read an essay I wrote a year ago during March following an Iowa State women's game in the NCAA tournament.

The April theme probably will be that of proms. I hope to put a video clip on from a 1950's prom that was originally shot in film by Superintendent Mortensen. For May, maybe we'll focus on track and field and have video clips of RHS runners.

Winter still lingers in Iowa. I've heard many people lament about how bad the weather has been and how eager they are for spring to arrive. There are signs that winter is actually getting ready to depart with the snow and ice receding,  temperatures rising, and sunshine adding a glow to faces and the landscape. 

It's been said that a person can never trust winter is truly over in Iowa until after the girls state basketball tournament. Often, winter can be deceptive, giving a false sense that spring has arrived, then wallops the state with a blizzard during tournament week. Well, this is the week of the girls' tournament, and all looks pretty good. It will be a long while, though, before gardening starts and farmers go to their fields. Later when the heat and humidity of August smother us, winter might not look so bad after all ... well, not so bad for some of us. I think some people just plain, out and out, detest winter and would prefer any other kind of weather, including the August conditions which prompt a certain amount of disdain on my part.

If you're wondering about the photos on this page, I got carried away one night doing still life photography. First, I did a Valentine's Day scene with teapot, candles, and a rose. (I used it on this page last month.) Then I wanted to make a visual statement ... something to the effect that basketball is only a game (for Pete's sake) and not too take it too seriously, especially during March. I knew the image would never show up on a newspaper op-ed page, but I still wanted to play around and create the photo. Both it and the teapot scene are now part of a notecard collection that I market, and I am satisfied with that outlet, but I also enjoy having this web site to display my photographs. 

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