The Art of Sports: The Madness that is March
By Mark Lewis
As a sports journalist, I could never get enough of Dave Kindred’s stuff. A clear writer, a concise writer, he was a guy who could praise the praiseworthy and skewer the skew-worthy.
We shared the experience of beginning our professional careers at the Bloomington Pantagraph newspaper but my talent certainly was not National Sportswriter of the Year (1997) caliber like Kindred’s.
I spoke with Kindred earlier in March as he, the 1991 Red Smith Award for Lifetime Achievement award winner, covered the Morton (Ill.) girls basketball team on the way to the Class 3A state championship.
Here’s a man who wrote a book about Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell covering the gritty Morton Potters and loving every minute of it. He was hardly a bandwagon jumper, blogging about the team’s ups and downs for five years.
Kindred said working the Friday night sports desk during basketball season at the Pantagraph is the hardest job he’s ever done and that includes covering about every major sports event that exists. I concur. With sometimes 50 games coming in after 9:30, the pace was hectic, loud and exhilarating. “And then there would be notes from the sports editor on the bulletin board the next morning telling you what you did wrong,” Kindred said.
Seeing is believing
Ever wonder who coined the term “March Madness”?
The short answer is H.V. Porter, an assistant executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA).
He authored a 1939 essay that included these words: “A little March madness may complement and contribute to the sanity and help keep society on an even keel.” I might wonder about the word sanity, but a concept had been born.
The IHSA later trademarked the term, and, according to the organization, licensing fees from the use of “March Madness” are used to fund college scholarships.
While sifting through the personal collection of Porter, IHSA historian Scott Johnson discovered filmed accounts of the boys state tournament from 1932 to 1936. Those are available for viewing at YouTube (link below).
What was basketball like in that era? The video shows center jumps after every made field goal, a remarkably small lane for three-second violations, a ball with laces and the lack of a 10-second (center court) line. And if you look quick during a Thornton of Harvey game, one-day baseball Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau tosses a no-look pass that leads to a basket.
We also see players thinking nothing about firing (and making) 30-foot set shots often after countless passes on the perimeter. And to prove there is little new under the sun, fans stormed the court at the University of Illinois’ Huff Gym after Thornton beat Springfield, 14-13, to win the 1933 state title.