Monday, March 6, 2017

The timelessness of March

There were laces on the ball then. John Wooden was a mere boy in Martinsville, his indelible footprint not yet formed. Milan and Oscar and Rick Mount and Damon Bailey lay far, far in the unimagined future.

But in that March of 1918, Churubusco High School played in its first Indiana high school basketball tournament.

Maybe you missed what happened next.

Maybe you missed it, but in the midst of a loud weekend in these loud, bizarre and fractious times, a piece of 1918 showed up in a gym at Woodlan High School. That's where, on Saturday night, the Churubusco Eagles won a basketball game that reached back 99 years. They beat Eastside, 65-56, thereby winning the first sectional title in school history.

And while they danced and shouted and cut down the nets, 2017 overlay 1918 like some cosmic double exposure. Basketball meant something to Indiana schoolboys (and schoolgirls) then, and it means something to them now. There's a timelessness to it, a commonality that binds go-to-market towns to small, iconic basketball cities, and those cities to the major metropolises of Indianapolis and Fort Wayne and Gary and Evansville.

Much has been written, some of it here, about what Indiana lost when it extinguished Hoosier Hysteria in 1997 and went to a four-class high school basketball tournament. Very little has been written about what couldn't be lost. What seemed the end of everything then, after all, turned out to be only the next incarnation of whatever this is. The game remained the same, as did whatever it is about it that draws Hoosiers to it.

To be sure, the gyms aren't as full as they used to be. And, as a state, we don't pay as much attention anymore, a consequence due as much to 2017's inescapable flood of distraction as it is to the passing of Hoosier Hysteria. But those who do pay attention, and who do sit in those gyms, care just as fervently as they always have.

That's because, when you get down to it, nothing ties us to what we are more firmly. Nothing links 1918 and 2017 more surely than the bounce of a ball, the squeak of shoe sole on hardwood, the raising of a trophy on a March night in some warm, embracing place.

You can change its form, it turns out. But you can never change its substance.

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