March Madness

In the farm circles, the preparation for the planting season can be described as “March Madness”. Think of it as a giant collaborative project with many moving parts… making sure farm equipment is repaired, greased, and ready to roll, suppliers in tune with the supply orders, seed in stock, deliveries of products received, advisory services in place, hired help on the payroll, weather cooperating, time available, and so much more.

When I was growing up, I did not fully comprehend that these many moving parts were being managed by my father as he prepared to move into planting season.  I was in the mindset of “Just tell me where and when to drive the tractor, Dad”.  I guess I thought planting season just happened magically, with the turn of the calendar.  Admittedly, I was more concerned about that other March Madness: high school and college basketball.

While I enjoy the spring planting season, basketball’s March Madness has always been a magical time of the year for me. I love basketball…playing it, watching it, and projecting winners in my bracket. During the winter, the snow, cold, chores, and drudgery of the season on the farm is suddenly replaced by this freshness of basketball tournament time.

My enthusiasm for March Madness started in 1976 when I was in junior high. My high school, in downstate Illinois (ROVA), was progressing victoriously through the State tournament, winning the Regional, Sectional, and Super-sectional. I listened to each game on an old transistor radio. 

On to Champaign, Assembly Hall, the ROVA had a chance to compete for a State title. I had the wonderful opportunity to watch my team from our little community on an old black and white TV, holding my breath as the picture rolled and fuzzed in and out. I had never known anyone that was on TV before!

ROVA ended up playing Mt. Pulaski, losing the Class A Championship game 59 – 58 in a heartbreaker. I still hold a grudge against Mt. Pulaski and grimace every time I pass the Mt. Pulaski sign on I- 55 near Springfield. That was also the year that Jay Shidler of Lawrenceville(who went on to play for Joe B. Hall at Kentucky) averaged over 39 points a game in the tournament,  shooting from everywhere on the court… imagine the points he would’ve had if there’d been a three-point line in those days!

That experience affected me from that point forward and throughout my life. I was so hooked on basketball.  After watching the high school or college tournament games, I would get so juiced up that I would go out to the barn at 11pm at night to shoot baskets to burn off the energy. Still today, I get this feeling in my chest of excitement and nervous energy as tournament games are shown for both high school and college basketball. I religiously fill out my bracket for the NCAA and then track the results each game, and each day, throughout the event.

 

And, I love the stories, small school versus large school. Rural school versus urban school. Hoosiers remains one of my favorite movies. The Illinois version of Hoosiers…the tiny school of Hebron in 1952 beating the powerhouse Quincy, is the stuff of folklore.  One of these days, in the NCAA tournament, a 1 seed will lose to a 16 seed and a legend will be borne.

 

The excitement of the game has grown with the dunk and the three-point shot. I want to offer a shout out to Mr. Arthur Ehrat of Virdin, Illinois. In 1982, he patented the breakaway basketball rim (using a farm field cultivator spring) that has become so important in the slam dunk era. I could have used that invention growing up…my brothers and I bent and broke a lot of rims and backboards (we called it doing a Darryl Dawkins) as we perfected our dunking abilities on eight-foot baskets growing up.

 

And I can’t proceed without a tribute to the farm products used to make the three pointer possible: leather basketballs and the paint made from soybean oil to create a three point line about 20 feet from the basket in the high school and college game.  In my youth, the barn’s low rafters made my 3 point shot quite flat with little arch and our 3 point line was hand-drawn from sidewalk chalk - very exact.

 

So, as we move into April, hopefully your version of March Madness went well… whether it be farming preparation or basketball brackets. Planting season has now arrived…or is it baseball season?