Big Dance without the COVID nightmare

Published 7:17 am Wednesday, March 13, 2024

By Steve Stricker

And so, March Madness 2024 begins today the 13th for NCAA Basketball as the SEC Tournament in Nashville kicks off. Ole Miss is currently 10th out of 14 teams in the SEC with a record of 7-10.

Game 1 is at 6:30pm, Game 2, 25 minutes after Game 1 with Championship Game 13 at Noon on Sunday, March 17; brackets weren’t established as I wrote this on Thursday, March 7.

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On Sunday, March 17, full-blown 2024 March Craziness (Madness) begins with NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday – First Four Tuesday, March 19, Final Four, Saturday, April 6 with the NCAA Championship Game on Monday, April 8.

Forever, I have filled out NCAA Tournament Brackets for either my entertainment, office competition, or ESPN entry.  All this basketball madness ironically brings normalcy to the college sports world and thousands of fans.

Flashback to March 2020 and the SEC Tournament.  On Wednesday, March 11, #12 Ole Miss was defeated by #13 Georgia 81-63, in Game 1, and #11 Arkansas defeated #14 Vanderbilt 86-73 in Game 2.  

Then, just like that the remainder of the games and tournament were canceled because of COVID-19.

On March 12, just five days before 68 teams were scheduled to begin the NCAA Tournament, it also was canceled for the first time since its creation in 1939, along with all NCAA championships for the remainder of that academic year because of COVID-19.

Normalcy, so badly needed, floundered, and came to a screeching halt as COVID literally shut down the whole world.  

Much like on Saturday, September 15, 2001 when our home football game against Vanderbilt was canceled because of respect for those who lost their lives in the horrendous 9-11 attacks of that Tuesday.  

I understood why, but remembered so badly needing this football game, normality, to belt out The Star-Spangled Banner and to be with my friends.  Even the President and NCAA officials voted to play the games for that reason.  

Because of COVID, “March Madness” took on an entirely different and eerily weird connotation with all sports, professional on down, being either delayed or canceled along with colleges, universities, schools, churches, businesses, my Sumo Wrestling in Japan conducted without spectators, etc.

When all this COVID-19 stuff began, seemingly overnight, causing unprecedented chaos, death, total disruption of the entire world (Pandemic) it seemed similar to WWI or WWII, but instead of factions fighting against each other, we were ALL fighting the same enemy and at the same time – Coronavirus!  

Reflecting on what purpose God possibly had to allow that mess – could it have been to bring us together, one people in the same “lifeboat?” Normally, I can find the “silver lining” in everything I experience but could not discern any good coming out of that wicked virus.

Then my faith, strength, came crashing down around me when on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, Bishop Kopacz canceled all Mass’s and closed the church.  It greatly helped when Fr. Joe Tonos streamed Mass on Facebook, Sunday, March 22, but it just wasn’t the same as being there with others, in front of our Lord in the Tabernacle, and receiving him in the Eucharist.  

Finally, on Father’s Day, Sunday, June21, 2020 – Sunday Mass was back in church for the first time since March 15….96 days.  Masks were required, 3 to a pew, only about 100 people were there, but it was the beginning and my beloved daily Mass continued with the same conditions.

So, we will never forget 9-11, COVID, all the hardships, but for now – I’m looking forward to this SEC Tournament today, GO REBELS, filling out my brackets for the “Big Dance,” and to continue my journey ankle deep in this Lenten desert to Holy Week and Jesus’ glorious rise once again from death on Easter Sunday.  ALLELUIA & GO REBELS!

Steve Stricker is an Oxford resident and received his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (Counseling) from Ole Miss.