Monday, March 19, 2018

Sixteen To One

As I've mentioned, we were just on Spring Break which almost always MAGICALLY coincides with the first week of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament! During the regular season, I don't watch but the coach in me wakes up from dormancy to catch as many games as I can. I should qualify that last statement. Since I don't have cable or a satellite dish, I'm limited to games that are on CBS. Three days ago, which was Friday, March 16th, I was driving to my nearby fitness center shortly after lunch to get in my afternoon workout. One of the local sports' talk stations, I believe 610 AM, was in the middle of a discussion between three on air personalities. The question was:
"Which is most likely to happen first? A baseball player batting higher than .406, a baseball player going on a 57 game hitting streak, or a 16 seed knocking out a 1 seed in the NCAA tourney?"
If you know your (American ) sports, you know that Ted Williams was the last big leaguer to hit .400 in 1941 and Joe DiMaggio went 56 consecutive contests with at least one hit, also in 1941. Both of those feats have been accomplished, one of the radio announcers mentioned, but a #16 has never beaten a #1 seed since the tournament expanded to sixty-four schools in 1985. I think they spoke of it being a matter of time but the streak was thirty-three years old and the number ones had a record of 135-o versus the sixteens. Maybe it would go on another thirty-three years.... or more! But if you watched at all, you know that streak would be history in a matter of hours as UMBC, a 16 seed, clobbered the overall #1 seed, Virginia. It was a twenty point beat-down with the Retrievers leading by double digits the last seventeen minutes of the game. Most folks' brackets were busted but I don't think most cared. To love sports is to love the concept of the upset and UMCB redefined the word. 

I have to admit, when I first saw the score at halftime, I had to google UMBC. I was pretty sure it was in Michigan/Montana/Missouri/Maryland/Maine/Massachusetts/Mississippi/Minnesota as they are the eight states beginning with M. Turns out UMBC means University of Maryland, Baltimore County. It's only been a college since 1966 and is more prominently known as a collegiate chess powerhouse. Not anymore! My guess is that alumni giving and donations in general will skyrocket in the coming weeks and months! Winning big athletic events pays dividends in a multitude of ways. Without a doubt, applications from high school seniors will spike and the sale of UMBC gear will go through the roof. The school will be googled on a high volume basis, just like I've done several times already. Life has begun changing for UMBC and I hope it will be the most positive change imaginable!

When I ask students to define miracle, they struggle. They give examples- raising the dead, walking on water- but more often than not, they simply tell me things that are overwhelmingly improbable. Flipping a coin and calling it right five thousand times in a row falls into that category but they can't tell me the point where it crosses the line to impossibility. People describe sporting events as almost having divine intervention; remember The Miracle On Ice in the 1980 Winter Olympics? Highly improbable- sure. Unfathomable- maybe. We are very casual with the way we use miraculous and I'm not saying it's bad. I think one  thing that makes life precious and exciting is its unpredictable nature. Good news out of the blue. The unexpected call from a friend we haven't heard from in years. This afternoon, one of my colleagues, Cindi, came by and showed me a document about a reunion from her parents' church in Michigan discovered when going through some old stuff. In the opening paragraph, it was stated that my Great Uncle Wesley, Grandpa Hawley's brother, had been a founder of their congregation. I've known Cindi, her husband, and three kids, who have all been my students, for a dozen years and had no idea our families were connected. That news was the highlight of my day. It came out of nowhere but it made me smile and reminisce. It was not miraculous but it was unforeseen. It wasn't supernatural but I never could have seen it coming. It was just a small interaction reinforcing to me that our lives are much more than our current state of  affairs. We matter in ways we can't begin to comprehend to people who don't know we exist. What seemingly random bit of human nature will delight us tomorrow? Who knows? We got excited about a basketball team we'd never heard of and even though the clock struck midnight Sunday for UMBC versus Kansas State, this Cinderella squad had a ball. And in the process, so did we.

Applicable quote of the day:
Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see. 
C. S. Lewis

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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