I wish I wasn’t writing this column.
At least, I wish I weren’t writing it this week.
Having grown up in Illinois, I had never lived through Hoosier Hysteria. After having received my first taste, I was not ready for it to end.
In the past month, I saw Adam Barton conjure up his now-legendary tournament magic. I saw Sydney Shelton do everything but sell her soul to stave off elimination. I saw dozens of seniors pour their hearts out onto the court and then erupt into tears when forced to confront the end of their careers.
Story continues below gallery
In just a few weeks, I lived Hoosier Hysteria. And selfishly, I want more.
Let me say now that I know a reporter’s disappointment at the season’s end is nothing compared to that of the players, coaches and fans who dedicated hundreds of hours preparing to hoist a trophy only to come away empty-handed.
I know it’s not the same, because I’ve been in their shoes, too.
Well, sort of.
I’ve competed in a few state tournaments — in what I’d like to think is the-not-too-distant past — but I do not remember ever experiencing this particular blend of passion, intensity and gut-wrenching desperation.
Maybe that’s a poor reflection of where I’m from, or maybe you think I’m just pandering, but the honest truth is I’ve never seen anything like what I saw the past few weeks. Let me share some of the highlights.
My Hoosier Hysteria baptism occurred Feb. 13 when the Mt. Vernon girls basketball team had their hearts broken and state dreams dashed by an impressive Richmond bunch.
I am convinced I was sent to this game by the basketball gods, so that I would never doubt or forget the greatness of the Indiana state tournament.
Not only was the contest a thrill-a-minute ride from start to finish, but I got to see Sydney Shelton in that fourth quarter … 19 points, a perfect 7-for-7 from the field. As good as the game was, Shelton overshadowed it.
She flat-out refused to lose. The game was over, and then it wasn’t. Only those in attendance can remember the look on those Richmond girls’ faces. They went from assured to afraid. I don’t blame them.
Coaches should show their teams those few minutes before the beginning of every season. They should say, “This is the ‘Refuse to Lose Game,’ when one of the greatest competitors in Hancock County history saw the writing on the wall and tried to erase it.”
I have never witnessed anything like that in person, and I am sure it will be a long wait before I do again.
But the basketball gods were not done with me. As if Shelton’s performance weren’t enough to command my eternal reverence to the tournament, a couple of weeks later they delivered me to New Castle to bear witness to their underground palace.
The magic of the Trojans’ high school gymnasium is in the misdirection. At street level, the building disguises itself as just another gym. Upon entrance, it evolves into a subterranean coliseum.
Colleagues told me what to expect, but words can’t prepare you for the feeling of staring down at that court for the first time.
I’m only 26. I know I haven’t seen much. But I have spent my entire life around sports. I’ve been to Wrigley and Soldier, Fenway and Lambeau, Bankers Life and the Nat. Each were beautiful and majestic in its own way, and to be frank, I thought they had ruined me for other arenas. I did not believe any venue had the ability to wow me anymore.
When I walked into the New Castle Fieldhouse, it felt wonderful to have been wrong.
A couple of the previously mentioned buildings have spent more than a century gathering history and have become standing memorials to some of the greatest moments in sports history. I will say, though, that when you stand in New Castle’s gym, you get the feeling it’s in the process of doing the same thing. And you get to be a part of it. And I got to write about it.
Unfortunately, I never again will write about Olivia Coleman, Shelby Oldham, Ryan Curry, Derrik Noel and all of their fellow seniors who not only contributed to the legacy of the buildings they played in but to the legacy of Indiana basketball. They’ll move on, though we wish they didn’t have to, as the next crop of seniors take their place.
So, when I say I wish I were not writing this column this week, I meant it. Look at what I experienced in my first go-round at Hoosier Hysteria. How could I not want more? How could I not want to see Barton push his Dragons one game further?
Maybe the basketball gods decided I had been spoiled enough for one year. It’s hard to disagree. But now that I know what I’m in for, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for me next year.