"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

We used to talk about "tournament blizzards"

The topic is spring. I'd venture to say that never before have Upper Midwesterners looked so forward to springtime conditions. We pride ourselves on being hardy. More revealing, though, is the fact that many of us, if we can get the means and opportunity in retirement, become "snowbirds."
Bears hibernate and snowbirds go south. So desperate are we to throw off the shackles of winter, we become giddy over the prospect of a week of temperatures in the 40s. Incredible!
The wind is gale force as I write this but I don't care, as long as the temperature can stay above freezing a while longer. It's only mid-February which makes it certain that winter hasn't departed. But I've had it.
Once the Super Bowl has been played, winter's depths really dawn on us. The NFL is trying help us out by expanding the regular season schedule from 16 to 18 games. This won't stop the depths of winter from arriving.
The early signs of spring will tease us. We've been through this for the past week. Winter will make its triumphant return.
We used to hear in Minnesota that blizzards would coincide with the state basketball tournament. That has a quaint sound to it, because prep tournaments aren't what they once were.
To be sure, the changes have been for the benefit of the student athletes. The athletes have a wider variety of activities and there is a more level playing field.
Hockey has become "democratized" as small communities have the means for serious high school hockey rather than the old "sandlot" type. Morris is a perfect example. We pair with Benson but that's OK. Athletes can arrange to play here who don't live in either Morris or Benson.
When I was a kid, boys basketball was the marquee winter sport and wrestling was a secondary sport. Basketball players had the highest status in the school's social strata. The basketball cheerleaders basked in a similar type of glow.
Wrestlers seemed somewhat like ruffians. Promoters of the sport might actually suggest that it was an outlet protecting a lot of these kids from getting into trouble. Or shall we say, more trouble than they already might be in.
Wrestlers could be marginal in the core academic classes but could be wizards in industrial arts. For that I give them a hearty "high five."
"Those are the guys who make this country go," a friend of mine once said.
I always thought it was bizarre and rather sad that so many wrestlers had to work on weight loss. Anyone with common sense knows your health can be compromised this way.
I don't blame the wrestlers because they wanted to win. Heaven knows the coaches were driven to win. I'm using the past tense here because I'm drawing on my memories.
I think sports today is much more enlightened, fair and progressive. The old "cute cheerleader" stereotype is gone because we no longer have cheerleaders! The institution of cheerleaders does hang on in some places. Whether it can truly be called anachronistic is open to debate. I doubt they'll ever have a revival in Morris.
I have suggested to at least one school board member that we consider a "cheer team" concept that would include both males and females. This model requires real athleticism and there are of course competitions, which have inspired movies. I have suggested that such a team could enliven the atmosphere at Big Cat Stadium, where, let's face it, it can seem a little desolate, being on the edge of town and all.
"Cheer teams" fit in fine with the current political sensibilities.
The cheerleaders I remember from high school belong in the movie "Hoosiers." They were like a hood ornament.
I'm sure that wrestlers today, while having their own identity to be sure, defy the stereotype I described earlier. In my day, tennis and swimming might have been derided as "sissy" sports, not on a broad scale but by the "usual suspect" bullies who were able to throw their weight around.
In the same vein, exchange students with different sounding names might be derided for this. I suspect that all of the dysfunctional attitudes I just described have been wiped away. And there is a concerted effort to wipe out what remains of "bullying." What a godsend this new culture is.
When I was a kid, life could truly be a jungle. Maybe this helped our adaptive mechanisms. But I think the minuses outweighed the pluses.
"The state high school basketball tournament" (i.e. boys) was once a one-class affair and was quite the institution in Minnesota. I remember that we could be let out of class to watch it on TV. People memorized the teams in the tourney and developed favorites.
Top players could become celebrities in Minnesota. The last of these might have been Mark Olberding of Melrose who was my age. At the time I graduated from high school, Minnesota was feeling major spasms of wanting to shove aside the old "elite" and one-dimensional tournament model in favor of more fairness.
First there was a two-class tournament. The two champions then met in a game, because an element in Minnesota still insisted on a single champion. But you either have classes or you don't. You either separate schools based on size or you don't.
Eventually the two classes became completely separate. But the element of fans who liked the old elite model never completely went away. There was a one-year experiment with crowning a single champion, after which the forces for a level playing field completely took over.
Now we have a four-class system for both boys and girls. The system completely discourages the mass citizenry from focusing on the games. It almost seems to exist for the benefit of the parents and fans in the communities involved.
But there will be no turning back. No throwback to "Hoosiers" with Gene Hackman as the old authoritarian coach.
Edgerton was Minnesota's answer to the fictional town in "Hoosiers." (Actually the town in the movie was loosely based on Milan, Indiana, which had an Edgerton-type scenario.)
Maybe the movie should have been made about Edgerton. But then everyone would wonder who the town drunk character was based on. Woody Harrelson could play the coach. He looks like the late Bill Musselman, doesn't he?
Basketball is associated much more with Indiana than Minnesota.
The movie "Hoosiers" couldn't have been made when I was a kid. The times in which I grew up were too dark, cynical and disturbing. The "Hickory" team certainly wouldn't have won in the end. They would have lost but would have gained lessons and insights.
Perhaps the mindset paralleled what we were experiencing in the Viet Nam War. We knew it was nothing but a tragedy but it persisted for years and years.
Finally after we had thrown off the shackles of that experience, we got movies like "Hoosiers" and "Rocky." The heroes simply won in the end - nothing nuanced or subtle, no subliminal message about how the whole system sucks.
Regarding Hoosiers, the Barbara Hershey character bothered me because while she was clearly sullen and down about the small town basketball model with its dead end and false hopes for so many kids, she loyally attended the games. She tried to have a less than enthusiastic look on her face, but she was there. She didn't have to be.
"Hoosiers" should have let us get acquainted with some of the non-athlete students and certainly the cheerleaders.
The Dennis Hopper character was appealing through much of the movie but in the end he seemed overdone. I wish he could have just "stuck it out" on the bench through the end.
The one-class basketball tournament in Minnesota is a museum relic. Edgerton played Austin with the latter team occupying the role of "heavy" or "villain," and those student athletes didn't deserve that. They just wanted to play basketball.
It's a more enlightened time even though it doesn't command the attention of the whole state anymore.
But a holiday-time blizzard certainly would.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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