March Madness. It’s a phrase most often associated with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and rightfully so. The Big Dance offers us what’s special about sports: the Cinderella stories, the buzzer-beaters, the fan bases from all over pouring into cities and arenas, etc.
Those who don’t even follow the regular season become invested when filling out a bracket, whether it’s for work or with a group of friends. But March Madness extends further than just the men’s tournament.
Whether it’s college or high school teams, March is typically the month you either become a champion or your season ends.
Postseason pandemonium. Tournament turmoil. Win or go home. All or nothing. You can come up with any phrase you want, but it doesn’t take much to get the juices flowing.
Tournament time is special. And around this area, you get no shortage of it. High school tournaments are something else. It’s tough to rival sellout arenas when the big college programs are playing each other for a chance at a title. But there’s just something different and unique about it at the high school level.
The hometown factor is probably the biggest reason. With so many college athletes sticking around the college level for the minimum required amount of years before going pro to make millions, it’s tough to gauge how invested and loyal they are to their school.
That’s not the case in high school. Although it’s cheesy and said all too often, “I’ve dreamt about going to state since I was a kid” is a statement most high school athletes can relate to. Memories are made in March for these high school athletes. For some, it’s the last time they’ll ever take part in competitive winter sports.
They grew up watching their hometown varsity team, looking up to the players. Those players are now alum and paying attention to their alma mater and who’s wearing their old jersey as a new set of youthful eyes watch in awe.
No tradition is deeper in sports than high school. The Blaine girls hockey program has sent numerous players to Division I. But the Bengals have made the state tournament just a handful of times in the program’s history. That’s what makes their section title and state tournament appearance so much more special this year.
Anoka kept its tradition alive with another wrestling team section title as did the Spring Lake Park dance team.
Xavier Mansfield brought a state championship to SLP in his last high school Nordic ski race. After finishing third last season and starting the classical race in third place and 20 seconds behind the leader this year, Mansfield chipped away and eventually passed the guys in first and second place. One of those skiers was the guy who edged Mansfield for second last year.
Stories like that is what makes high school sports unique. If you want to see passion and drive, watch a high school postseason tournament or meet in March.
Whether it’s sections or state, teams and athletes are playing for their seasons, and for some, their careers.
With triumph, though, often comes heartbreak. Few teams can say they ended the season on a win. It’s the brutal reality of sports. But as another cheesy line goes, you don’t remember that last loss. You remember the journey up until that point.
And there’s no journey quite like a postseason run in March.