Above: Cole teachers and badminton players Deb McMullen and Mona McGillivray after McGillivray bested McMullen in the annual school tournament, adult division.
By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.
March is my favorite time of year. Spring has sprung. The days are longer and full of light. I love March Madness. The NCAA Tournament. 68 basketball teams. One champion. I believe it is the best sporting event in our country. Here’s why: any team can beat another on any given day. In most playoff events, it is a series (best of 3, best of 5, or best of 7). In most of those cases, the better team will win. Sometimes the underdog can win in a playoff series, but in March Madness, the lower-seeded teams have much more of a chance!
This year’s tournament has been no exception. Florida Atlantic University is in the Final Four. In their region, they were ranked 9th, the first 9th seed since 2013 to make it to the Final Four. It is the first time FAU has reached the Final Four in their program’s history!
It’s tremendous to see an underdog win in the NCAA Tournament. It’s exciting to see a come-from-behind victory, and unless it’s your alma mater, chances are you’re rooting for the underdogs. At least I know I am!
But on the other side of the gym from the underdog winner is the team that was supposed to win. Sometimes there’s more pressure on the higher seeds simply because of higher expectations. Perhaps their record was better. Perhaps they had a better strength of schedule. Perhaps they had more wins than their opponent. No matter the reasons, those higher seeds might feel those losses more.
Along the way this year, there were significant losses. On the tournament’s first day, Furman University, ranked 13th in their region, defeated the University of Virginia, ranked 4th in their region. In the game’s final seconds, senior guard Kihei Clark turned the ball over, leading to a Furman steal, which led to the go-ahead three-pointer. That sequence was the difference in the game. Clark stayed at his locker, patiently and politely answering all reporter questions after his late-game miscue cost his team the game. When his head coach Tony Bennett was asked about the grace Clark showed, Bennett responded:
“You celebrate his career,” Bennett said, “and this is part of the game. I’ve used this line before, but when you step between the lines, you take the good, and you take the hard with it. You try to handle them with dignity and respect and he’ll [Clark] do that… Would we be in this spot without him? Nope. So here we are, and I’m grateful for him.”
Losing with grace.
The very next day, Fairleigh Dickinson University, ranked 16th (lowest) in their region, defeated Purdue University, ranked 1st. It is only the second time in the entire history of the NCAA Tournament that this has happened. Matt Painter, head coach of Boilermakers, started his press conference with this:
“I thought they played excellent. What they were trying to do and what we watched on film is exactly what they did – always trying to spread people out, use their quickness, use their skill. I don’t want to take anything away from them. They earned it. They played better than we did. They coached better than we did.”
Painter then stayed at the press conference and answered every question. Every. Single. Question. Even when the media assistant said, “Last question,” Painter stayed until there were literally no more questions.
Losing with grace.
While not on the same level as the NCAA Tournament, Debra McMullen organized the 31st Annual Badminton Tournament at Cole Middle School this past week. Ms. McMullen not only put on this tremendously fun event, including student and adult brackets (I lost 5-4 in my only match), but she played as well. Ms. McMullen made it to the finals and lost. The first thing she did was hug and celebrate Mona McGillivray in front of a packed gym on Cedar Avenue.
Losing with grace.
March is, indeed, my favorite time of the year.
Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.