A Community of Madness – Final Round

sonnet / flickr

Here’s Alex and my re-cap from Round 1, Round 2 and Round 3 of March Madness.

This final one will be short and sweet.

Partly because this year’s installment of March Madness – the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament – yielded one of my worst ever predictive performances, but mostly because it’s now out of our community’s collective consciousness and, as a blog that explores community, we must honour this. [Editor's note: the tourney was pretty boring, too - for the first time I can remember, there wasn't a single buzzer-beater and, well, everyone knew that Kentucky was going to win]. That’s right, folks, following their historic run to the championship, the starting lineup of the Kentucky Wildcats will be heading to the National Basketball Association (NBA) and their coach, in the years to come, will probably be investigated for illegal recruiting practices, which is pretty much what happened to Jim Calhoun after his UConn Huskies won the championship last year.

Go, um, sports?

Anyway, congrats to Alex and Robin for picking Kentucky to win it all. I think that Robin won (Alex, in the last three years of us doing this Robin has won twice and Michelle has won once), which was how this was supposed to happen. And congratulations to the Kansas Jayhawks for having the nicest community-building fans in the nation.

As always, this is one of my favourite series on the Gumboot, folks. And I thank you all for providing the metrics, attitude, witticisms, sportitude, and energy as we explored one of the most fascinating community-based stories in sport.

Thanks for the memories. See you next year!

A Community of Madness – Round 2

[Editor's note: people, the Editor-in-Chief of this blog loves basketball, higher education, community, competition, and when they all slam together in a mess of cheers, tears, body-paint, over-achievement, and ridiculously awesome excitingly uncontrollable hyperboles. Exclamation point! Over the next three weeks, John and his American-import-possibly-mustached-BFF, Alex Grant, will engage in witticisms and precarious predictions pertaining to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. As players, teams, schools, regions, bank accounts, pundits, pride, and - yes - nations collide, you will get a true sense of what the March Madness community really means. Enjoy!]

akeg / flickr - Alex and John took things too far...


JOHN: Well, it was a record-tying weekend. Only once before have teams seeded 11-15 done so well. In fact, two 15-seeds (Norfolk State and Lehigh) upset their second-seeded opponents (Duke and Missouri). And there was much rejoicing by the communities of those former two schools. Well done, fightin’ sports teams! And “go college!”

As for this little pool, well, my bracket isn’t broken, but it’s not not broken, either. While only one of my final four teams have fallen, I suffered a lot of damage within my “interior bracket” – this may or may not have been a word that I just made up (patent-pending, John Horn 2012). Vanderbilt going down to the stifling defense and sweet shooting of Wisconsin hurt, yes, but I still have my dealbreaker, Kansas, in the mix and they demonstrated nerves of steel and wily cunning as they ousted Alex’s beloved Purdue on Sunday (I heaved a great sigh of relief when they did, too).

Canadian Alert!!!

Wow. Brady Heslip is a fairly unassuming fellow. At least he was fairly unassuming until going 7/10 from three point range and almost single-handidly making Buffalos extinct in the state of Colorado. Now he’s King of Baylor and Burlington, Ontario.

Finally, congratulations to the state of Ohio. Your teams went 8-0 last weekend and that’s pretty darn great.

eliduke / flickr

ALEX: [Editor's note: as of press time, Alex Grant's 4,000 words were not filed - we can only assume that he is managing at least 453 social media channels through one integrated dashboard or making prank phone calls to Brady Heslip every five minutes and this is why he missed the deadline. Alex, next time just use Robocalls!]


ALEX: [Editor's note: see above above].

Alex's Picks - injured bracket

JOHN: I predict that Marquette will go down in the kind of flames that are typically reserved for metaphorical descriptions of what Donald Trump’s political career goes down in. Zing! My main man Evan “The Heavy” Ferris – somehow - predicted that Florida would make it, I think, to the Final Four. Well, I don’t think they’re going that far, but they’re going to take down Marquette in the Sweet 16. Well played, Ev.

John's Picks - injured bracket

The time has come for the number ones, too. And I also predict that Wisconsin is going to beat Syracuse and, here’s the big one, that Baylor is going to dispatch Kentucky. Here’s my Final Four:

  • Baylor
  • Michigan State
  • Kansas
  •  Wisconsin Ohio State Cincinnati Ohio State

danny wild / flickr


JOHN: Over the past couple of days I’ve been saying things like “three of my four teams are still in it” and “I’m doing waaaaaaayyyy better in my other bracket” – one of these statements is true. Do you know what else is true? Here’s a truism: Alex Grant is a gentleman and a scholar who not only throws great parties, but who also counts cooking, style and immaculate facial hair construction among his world-changing professional toolkit. You are a god amongst men and, well, you have three teams left in this game as well. Good luck, good sir!

Robin, well played. You clearly have the best strategy. None of my grand pappies went to college, though, so it was hard to pick the closest thing to a fishing boat off the coast of Newfoundland. Wait…was that Ulysses guy from thousands of years ago an Athenian or a Spartan? Because I think he was my great x 20 uncle.

And Michelle, well, you invested a bit too heavily in Duke stock this year.

ALEX: [Editor's note: I like to think that, at this time, Alex would celebrate his special lady's accomplishment as well as commend John for doing his best Alex Grant impression and/or hypothesizing where Alex might be right now ... prank calling Brady Heslip].


acaben / flickr

MICHELLE: Well, this is unpredictable fun. You never know what’s gonna happen. Take Duke, for example. Who could’ve seen that coming? [Editor's note: John saw it coming]. I hope that there’s not another upset like that. Go UNC!

In conclusion, I hate March Madness and am sad that my bracket is broken. I don’t understand how my logical and data-driven selection criteria failed me. Needless to say, this – more than anything else, ever – has me re-thinking the very principles of what I call “community”.

Michelle's Picks - broken bracket

ROBIN: [Editor's note: this is the very hilarious transcript of a conversation between Robin and John very early this morning. Oh, and she's winning our pool]:

Robin: Hi John. This is the first I’ve heard about a second post from me.  I’m pretty busy at work today, and I don’t think I’ll have time to jot anything down.  I’m so sorry for whatever part I played in dropping the ball here (haha?)  Please let me know how you would like me to proceed. Thanks. Robin.

John: Do you have your bracket all marked up? Because I can just post it. And no worries, I’ll take care of the words!

Robin: I don’t….I don’t even know where my bracket is. And I haven’t been paying attention so I don ‘t even know how I’m doing! That’s my whole MO with this march madness thing. I can try to recreate it when i get home tonight. Let me know if you want me to do that. 

[Editor's note: this is pretty great, right?]

Robin's Picks - winning

Tailgating – Like a Boss

Kickin' it old school - as one passer-by said. The end result - Husky Chicken.

It was about an hour before game day. The Washington Huskies were taking on the Arizona Wildcats and it was do or die time for the Huskies after being crushed last week by Stanford. At least that’s the story according to the local university newspaper, which had devoted a good half of their Saturday paper (including the cover) to the ever present upcoming game.

The excitement all over the University of Washington campus (and well beyond) was tangible. That night Husky Stadium would be jammed with over 59,000 purple clad “Dawgs”. Outside the stadium, the tailgating got underway three to four hours before the game. The extravagance of the setups were astounding. Everywhere you went, there was a sea of purple and gold clutching plastic cups of Miller and Bud. Ol’ boys walked from SUV to SUV chatting it up. Wives (and husbands) BBQed chicken, asparagus, bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers and just about every fatty, grilled meat you could imagine.

Boatgaiters - one of the unique elements of Seattle's tailgate experience.

Set up on the grassy knoll above the lot, stylized “DAWG” Winnebagos were lined up. Powered by diesel generators, these party zones blasted tunes and other current college games on large crystal clear, satellite equipped TVs. Games of beer pong were everywhere. So were drunk people. But what was most engaging, inspiring and surprising was how genial the whole scene was.

Perhaps it was the age diversity of the event, which included kids barely old enough to throw a football running between die-hard DAWGs who’d witnessed the 1990s championship game as middle-aged Boosters. There was a family, carnival vibe to the whole thing. Even to the young guys who meandered up to your group and just stood there swaying back and forth because they were to drunk to do much else exuded it.

Or maybe it was just the established nature of the whole thing. People understood that despite a steady patrol of officers throughout all the massive parking lots, no one would be hassled as long as they were discreet about their drinking and behavior. There seemed to be a mutual understanding. Color within the lines and everyone would have fun.

Or perhaps its just the nature of college football in general. Far from the uproars of violence endemic in hockey, it seemed to be a game of controlled and channeled violence. I’m told there are rarely fights on the field because you can vent your aggression in the next down (with the ref, the fans and your coaches blessing).

Whatever the case, it was hard to not notice how different of a vibe there was to the whole event than the infamous “Vancouver Riot” earlier this year.

The game itself was a ball. But also was noticeably a pageant. The players, after every down, (no matter how few yards were gained) would engage in their victory ceremonies of helmet banging, back slaps, jumping up and down like kangaroos. In defeat, different ceremonies – sympathetic back-slap, head held down hustle back to the side lines.

The cheerleaders and cheer(men?), endlessly pepped up, bounced around the sidelines down after down. Every third down, a big angry husky dog would be displayed on the stadium’s jumbotron and bark viciously to help do its part to shore up the teams (occasionally weak) defense. At half time, a whole slew of alumni (distinguished professors among them) along with what seemed to be U-Dub’s entire rowing team (oars and all) lined up to create a massive 100 meter long tunnel through which the whole team ran through to the hardcore lyrics of Detroit prodigy Eminem. Oh and then there was the marching band. Dozens (hundreds it seemed like at times) lined the field and in constant marching order, serenaded all 60,000 of us with one classic rock song after another. There uniforms with their giant “W” and sparkling golden plumes were almost as impressive as their massive formation marches.

Talk about an amazing experience for a couple Canadians. Such a community seems to only exist South of the border.

Trees can Change the World; Trees made of Wooden

John Wooden, at age 99 passed away of natural causes in the early morning of June 5th 2010. Undoubtedly, he was one of the greatest coaches of all time, developing one of the most powerful ideas for building a community of change for the greater good, by demanding that everyone “Should not measure themselves by what they have accomplished, but by what they should have accomplished with their ability.”

But, it is safe to say Wooden (known affectionately in the basketball world as ‘Coach’) would dismiss the spotlight on his awards. For Wooden, his very philosophy shy’s away from the results. Wooden was concerned with the process of realizing results. He passionately concentrated on the effort involved in achieving the reward. And the reward was secondary. This was the foundation of his and his team’s success on the court and in life.

“Success is peace of mind.” Wooden said. “[It is] The direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best, to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

This idea to focus on, and worship, effort is the foundation for modern coach-centered leadership for sport, business, and even parenting. And what a beautiful thing an idea is. Transcendent through individuals, great ideas take on a life of their own. In the coaching world they are often described as coaching trees. These trees map the relationships that link individuals through the merging, adopting, and evolution of philosophy. Wooden’s philosophy has made a remarkable journey as his success orientation has been passed through players, coaches, and learners to all corners of the globe. Wooden’s coaching tree is worth growing because of the positive community of people it creates and empowers.

Unbeknownst to me, I was introduced to Wooden’s philosophy. Before I had even heard the name John Wooden, a branch of his tree saved my academic career. Now I have grown my own branch of the Wooden tree and let me tell you, it is magic when you see a 13-year-old embrace it and change his life through it. My branch of the Wooden Tree is called ‘Process Not Result’, where my athletes are taught to focus on the process (effort) not the result and how to apply that to everyday life. I am not naïve enough to believe that my actions will cause the tipping point and enable the grand ‘result’. But I do believe that collectively, through the effort one day that tipping point will come.

Wooden’s idea of … “Knowing you made the effort to do your best, to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”… is central to success in any aspect of life not only sport. And after listening to the news stories that surrounded Wooden’s this morning, this concept is more important than ever as it is central to all social change. It is central to developing youth into better people and the leaders of tomorrow. It is central to inspiring those around you. It is central to instilling confidence. It is central to believing you can be the change. It is central to hope. It is central to changing the world. It is central to relieving the crushing pressure and exhaustion that individuals, who strive to be the change, must endure. It is central to knowing while we, alone as individuals, will not be in the headlines for the next positive social revolution, collectively by being part of the process, part of the effort to do so, we will have a stake in positive change.

So when we hear these stories of blockades, and environmental disasters, we are hearing stories of the results of negative ideas, and toxic interactions. John Wooden is largely a story of the process. A story of the effort needed to change the world. Pass this idea on, you cannot ensure the result, but you can control the process of achieving the result. Grow this tree, this tree made of Wooden.

Here are some additional ‘Woodenisms’ to help grow your Wooden tree:

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

“Be prepared and be honest.”

“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

“What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player.”

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”

“It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.”

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

“Consider the rights of others before your own feelings and the feelings of others before your own rights.”

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

“Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

Madness in our Community

Culturally, are Canadians merely Americans who pride themselves on – and define themselves by – not being American? Or is this madness? Well, folks, the Madness is nearly here.

Many of you know what it is and why everyone gets so mad about it. Okay, here’s the deal: the “madness” refers to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, which takes place for three weeks in March and April. It involves 64 teams and is, arguably, the best example of amateur sport this side of the Olympics. For a Canadian’s information, in Downtown America, the worshiping of sport goes a little something like this:

1. NFL Football
2. NCAA Football
3. NBA Basketball
4. NCAA Basketball
47. NHL Hockey (ranked after bowling, darts, poker, and the WNBA)

Weird, eh? Hockey barely makes the top 50! Moreover, this tournament – this madness - is unequivocally huge. Hundreds of millions of American and Canadian viewers tune in to watch and Las Vegas usually covers well over $300 million in legal bets and, get this, over $2.5 billion is spent annually in office pools and illegal gambling. Nearly half (41%) of Americans watch the tournament and over one quarter (27%) participate in an office pool which results in nearly $3.8 billion in lost productivity. The above picture is a pretty moderate example of how seriously schools (and all the alumni, townsfolk and administration) take this sporting event. Heck, whenever Arkansas plays, Bill Clinton shows up to cheer on his team!

Needless to say, whether it’s participating in an office pool to choose the unlikely winner of the 64 team tournament or collaborating with your high school basketball team to pick the perfect bracket and do a little trash-talking or slathering on some paint, funky outfits and intoxicating yourself en route to actually attending a game, this event is a perfect and amazing exercise of community. It’s also a harbinger of Americanization for Obamatown’s northern neighbour, Canada. Data is hard to come by, but recent findings show that millions of Canadians tune in to watch the games, compete for the title of “lost productivity per capita” and spend millions of dollars in office pools. Thing is, not only does Canadian talent make up less than .1% of the players and coaches in the tournament, but we have our own university basketball playoffs here! Sure, only eight teams compete in the CIS Men’s Basketball Championships, which means it lasts, like, a week. And sure only, like, four of the players can dunk. But, come on, are we really so starved for basketball talent that we need to look to American players, commentators, coaches, fans, and advertisers for athletic entertainment?

Yes. We are. March Madness is an over-indulgent spectacle built on the backs of some of the hardest workers in the world. Winning it all has as much to do with luck as it does with mental and physical preparation. And it brings people from every race, culture, socio-economic-background, intellectual-level, and profession together to celebrate victory and mourn defeat (except on the court…as Chris Rock says, “we’re 10% of the population and 99% of the Final Four!”). And it’s a beautiful thing. No offense, Canada, but Hockey wishes it had as much clout in this country. And, for the record, Rome would be jealous of these games.

American college basketball is a billion-dollar-a-year industry. Whether its ticket sales, merchandising, advertising revenue, or television rights, the schools and the NCAA rake in very healthy – if not slightly gluttonous – profit. The student players, aside from scholarships, sweet hotel accommodations and a meager stipend, see no part of the revenue (a recent New York Times article argues that much of this process is reflective of “modern slavery” in the United States). There’s no salary-cost, like in the professional leagues. [Insert comment about this reflecting American Corporatism here]. Communities go to war during this event, too. Bright colours, paint, songs, chants, filthy limericks, and dastardly pranks are all part of the madness. And in the end, only one community can win it all.

Other than being invented by a Canadian, the March Madness basketball tournament has little or nothing to do with the Canadian community. But we watch. Our networks carry it. We can get Pay Per View packages for $100. Why does this happen? Why do millions of Canadian sports fans look South of the border for their basketball-stimulus package? Well, for starters, the talent is greater and the drama-of-sport plays out on a much, much grander stage. Like with Obama’s administration, Canadians really, really want to be a part of this installment of the American Dream. More Canadians play basketball than hockey* and more Canadians watch American Idol than Canadian Idol. This is big sport, big business, big community. And it leads me to just one unfortunate conclusion: we might live in Canada, but this is definitely North America.

Whether it’s Obamania, House, the Superbowl, Hollywood, Springsteen, or College Basketball, we’re all mad about somethin’ non-Canadian.

And, quite honestly, I feel a little weird about it. Not good or bad. Weird. How do you feel?


*definitely more play soccer than hockey, and, since basketball is the second most popular sport on Earth after soccer, I’m going out on a limb and calling this a “fact” today…it may or may not be true, but it’s from the gut!