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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Someday, kids may be crazy about NCAA Tournament

There are many reasons March is magical: Temperatures rise. Wardrobes shift from coats to T-shirts. More daylight means evenings outside. Bikes and scooters come out of storage. Grass greens. Flowers sprout.

And the NCAA Tournament is on a continuous loop on our living room television.

My husband and I are basketball fans. He grew up watching Antoine Carr and Cliff Levingston and still remembers 1981's epic "Battle of New Orleans." My childhood highlight reel features Jim Valvano's run onto the court after my beloved N.C. State Wolfpack won the 1983 national title.

So we pledged — in that informal, unspoken way you promise things when you stare at a sonogram screen, thinking, "This child shall love basketball" or "Please, please don't go to Carolina... unless you get a scholarship; then we'll consider it" — to teach our children the joy of March Madness.

So far we've had mixed results.

During the kids' early years, Randy worked for The Eagle and traveled through March covering the tournament. I'd sit Hannah and Jack in front of the television to play "Spot Daddy on Photographers' Row," and we'd look for him whenever the camera panned.

I thought they got it, until one day Jack pointed to 6-foot-9 Wayne Simien and said, "Daddy? Daddy!!"

Um, not exactly. But we like him, too! Rock Chalk!

As the kids got older and learned about basketball, they came to appreciate the tournament more. But they still balked when we'd change the channel from "iCarly" to some random first- or second-round game.

So we sweetened the deal. During March Madness — and only March Madness — our family eats dinner in the living room. We ditch the normal rules and park ourselves in front of the TV, eating pizza or Chinese take-out. Suddenly, these kids appreciate tournament time.

During Sunday's selection show I sat with Jack as the bracket was announced and marveled at his evolving commentary. He's still not clear on RPI or strength-of-schedule, but he has definite opinions about mascots.

"Owls?" he said as Temple University was announced.

"Owls can be pretty vicious," I told him.

OK, he conceded. But don't try to sway him on those UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. Jack also thinks UConn's Husky looks more like a Pomeranian.

Hannah, 13, mostly delights in watching me squirm. When games get close, I stand and pace or go to the kitchen to feign housework, pretending not to care. She'll grab my shoulder and say, "Mom, it's a game," the same way she says, "Mom, it's a movie" when I weep at the end of "Charlotte's Web."

Who knows whether my kids will ever truly embrace March Madness. They could grow up not watching at all, or they could be like one of my friends, who skips work the first day of the tournament because he considers it a national holiday. I love that guy.

Perhaps my children will prefer baseball, in which case they'll have to explain the fascination. Because I just don't get it.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or

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