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FIRST PERSON: March Madness, fathers and sons
by Brett Maragni
Date: Mar 31, 2010

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)--The earliest memory I have of March Madness was when I was 7 years old. Al McGuire’s Marquette won the tournament. I was pulling for Marquette because I liked their colors and I thought the untucked jerseys with the school name below the number, the two-striped tube socks and the afro hairdos were cool.
That same year, Dad had bought me my first Nerf hoop which was placed in the living room, where I could watch the NCAA tournament and then imitate the players. Dad and I played many games of H-O-R-S-E on that little Nerf hoop.

Dad took me to a lot of games at his alma mater, Southern Illinois University, where we saw our share of great teams and players come through Carbondale to challenge the Salukis, most notably Larry Bird and the top-ranked Indiana State Sycamores back in 1979. They took an undefeated record into the national title game where they were stopped by the Michigan State Spartans and their superstar, Magic Johnson.

Every year found Dad and me in front of the television for the Final Four. In 1983, having turned 13 just a few days before the national championship game, I had become swept up in the dunking hysteria of Houston’s high flying heroics known as Phi Slamma Jamma. But my first teenage broken heart came courtesy of a dunk by N. C. State’s Lorenzo Charles. I literally cried.

In 1985 we watched as Rollie Massimino’s Villanova Wildcats stunned the world by upsetting fellow Big East rival, Georgetown. In 1987 we watched Keith Smart hit a mid-range jumper in the Superdome to secure Bobby Knight’s third national championship. In 1989 Michigan’s Glenn Rice torched our Illinois Fighting Illini for 28 points in the semifinal game on the way to the Wolverines’ only national title.

In 1991, I was in college and on a mission trip during the Final Four. With no television around, I stood on the street corner at a pay phone while Dad put the receiver up to his television so I could hear the last couple of minutes of the semifinal game between Duke and UNLV.

I live a long way from Dad now. But we still find ourselves calling each other during the Big Dance, saying, “Are you watching this?” or “Did you see that?” I am thankful for a Dad who made a special effort to use sports to connect and bond with his son.

Now my oldest son is 7 years old and just finished his first season of Upward basketball. At the end of the season, every player received an indoor basketball goal and ball. We have put it up in the living room not far from the television. We play games of H-O-R-S-E while we watch March Madness. If I don’t have a particular team I’m pulling for, my son usually picks the teams he wants to cheer for based upon how cool he thinks their colors or mascot is.

This coming Monday night you will find us in front of the television carrying on a family tradition as I will let him stay up late to watch the game with me. As his younger brother gets a little older he will join us. And thus will continue the family tradition.
Brett Maragni is senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel of Jacksonville, Fla. His Web site is

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