March Madness is coming and my boys are excited. For years, my husband and sons look forward to discussing, analyzing and then finally filling in their brackets and making their predications for the college basketball tournament. Usually they get in on the pool organized at my husband's office – where everyone solicits the picks of their spouses, children and pets. They ante up $5 and then are subject to the criticism and snide comments of co-workers. As the games are played and favorite teams fall by the wayside, vicious emails shoot through space, questioning the sanity of spouses who could be rooting for such a school and the psychic ability of toddlers who could have made such astounding picks?
For my youngest son, Andy, March Madness means a chance to voice his opinion. He can't vote, can’t drive and he's the youngest in our house. Since he was old enough to say, "me too,” Andy has wanted to do everything the big kids were doing – and he has filled out a bracket since he was old enough to say “Final Four.”
When he was younger, Andy usually picked Gonzaga to go all the way. When asked why, he replied with the obvious. He liked the name. Andy also always pencils in Pepperdine because it sounds like an energetic, happy place to go to school. Xavier is a favorite too. Isn't that the school named for Professor Xavier, mentor of the X-men superheroes? They must have a fabulous basketball team. But really, how else would you expect a kid to choose which college basketball team will win?
Favorite color? How many purple teams can you root for? We’ve tried the mascot method too, but there are so many hawks, bulldogs and lions it just gets confusing. So far, we haven't found a college that has a hamster as its mascot. My husband and I are both University of Pennsylvania alumni, so the kids sometimes join us in rooting for the Quakers. But how long can you cheer for a pacifist, oatmeal loving Colonial? Back in the day, Penn would usually win the Ivy League and get the lowest seed in the playoff bracket. We would cheer the Quakers on and follow their bracket progress for one week –until they were ousted in the first round.
As our older kids went through the college decision process, the topic of favorite schools came up quite a bit in our house. But neither of them ended up at an athletic powerhouse. Our older son is a recent New York University graduate --a school that's big city but low on sports. NYU's few intercollegiate teams are nicknamed the "Fighting Violets." Don't ask. Our daughter is at a school whose mascot is a large elephant – Jumbo, in fact. Tufts University students are the Jumbos, because P.T. Barnum of circus fame was a benefactor of the school. He actually left the original taxidermied pachyderm, Jumbo, to the school, where he resided until a tragic fire several decades ago. But the Jumbos don't trample the bracket. Elephants usually don't even get invited to the big dance.
In our house, as we guided two older children through the college selection and decision process it was inevitable that Andy was privy to a lot of college related discussions. The coming March Madness seems to open up that theme again, leading him to ask questions like, "Is Southern Kentucky State a good school? Would I want to go there?" Based on his bracket choices, Andy is comparing colleges with all the authority of an admissions dean. “How do you think Villanova will match up against Hofstra?” he asks as he examines the Xeroxed page spread out before him. “What about University of South Dakota? Is that a school I would like?” But I don’t know if he's talking about the cheerleaders or the chemistry classes.
So Andy prepares to make his picks again this year. We read the bracket match-ups together and he chooses his favored school at each intersection. We even looked up Gonzaga University. After all, I had to know something about our favorite school besides its funny name. I found out that Gonzaga is across the country in Spokane, Washington. It’s a well-ranked, small sized university with a good business school. If Andy sticks with his top pick all through high school, at least I’ll know where to send the tuition bill.