I never thought I would say or write this, but I like college basketball.
“Free throws are free” is the mindset I’ve acquired this past weekend, and I blame it all on The Phoenix’s sports editors.
I’ve poked fun at Nick Schultz, our sports editor, for years now about his obsession with Loyola sports, namely the men’s basketball team. I’ve stayed away from sports my whole life — save for my stint on my high school’s powderpuff team. There’s no reason for it beyond simply having no interest or knowledge on the matter.
I relate to concert-goers who crave being in crowds and mosh-pits. I get the rage people express about politics. I’ve never understood people’s response to sports — until this weekend.
A couple weeks ago during The Phoenix’s production night, I sat down next to one of our sports editors, Abby Schnable, and we started chatting about spring break. She was traveling down to St. Louis with a few other editors to cover the Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball tournament — “Arch Madness” as it’s most commonly referred.
She jokingly asked if I wanted to come down with them. The conversation was picked up by others in the newsroom, and next thing I knew Abby was game-planning getting me credentialed. Not even 24 hours later, she texts that I’m approved.
Despite Loyola making it to the NCAA Final Four when I was a first-year in 2018, I’ve never been to a Loyola basketball game. I didn’t know much beyond the fact free throws (which, yes, I knew were worth one point) aren’t the Ramblers’ strength. So the fact I was going down to cover a major sporting event made me laugh.
I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. And despite the long days, the crazy weekend of madness was exactly what I needed. I was in the best hands with our sports editors Kyle Brown, Abby and Schultz (who’s referred to in the newsroom exclusively by his last name), who passed down some of their vast basketball knowledge. Our on-staff photo guru Zack Miller indulged my life and music discussions while helping me hone my sports photography skills.
There was no better way to rectify my virtually nonexistent basketball knowledge than by sitting through nine games in four days.
Arch Madness — the precursor to the NCAA tournament known as March Madness — is the sports equivalent of covering Pitchfork or Lollapalooza music festivals. I’ve covered those, but something about the St. Louis tournament hit differently, something even Schultz acknowledged.
The event was highly organized, the fans were loud and energetic, and the 10 teams put their hearts and souls into games. And for a first tournament, I don’t think there could’ve been a better one to attend and cover.
The weekend, full of upsets, made history on several occasions.
No. 1-seeded University of Northern Iowa was overcome by No. 8-seeded Drake University in the quarterfinal round Friday. No. 2-seeded Loyola was knocked down by No. 7-seeded Valparaiso University the same day. It was the first time in tournament history the top two seeds were eliminated in the quarterfinals.
The Valparaiso Crusaders, who competed against Bradley University in Sunday’s championship game, were the first to ever play in all four days of the tournament. The Braves, who won the game 80-66, are going dancing for the second year in a row after winning back-to-back Arch Madness titles.
And throughout it all, I sat next to some of my favorite people who taught me about the sport, the tournament and the many quirks of sports.
You may now call me a sports reporter. Photographing basketball is such an exciting experience, and writing gamers isn’t nearly as difficult as I imagined. When plans for this weekend unfolded, our editor-in-chief joked I might have a knack for sports reporting. I wouldn’t call it that exactly, but I’ve uncovered a desire to write some sports stories, a desire I never would’ve fathomed.
With sports reporting though comes the “sports diet,” as Schultz calls it. It’s as terrible as you might imagine it to be: chips and soda (neither of which I frequently consume). I’m not sure where to begin to fix my regime after this weekend, but I console myself with the fact we laughed so much this weekend that we probably burned a lot of those unnecessary carbs doing so.
The epitome of the weekend was dinner with our pal and fellow Phoen Mary Grace Ritter — a St. Louis native and expert. We indulged in $3 burgers and mozzarella sticks at a late-night, retro diner. And everyone let me document the night on 35mm film without complaining. That’s how you know you’ve found high-quality people.
Much to his chagrin, Schultz was more often than not the butt of jokes and criticism. He grew up in a small central-Illinois town that only has one McDonald’s within its borders. He doesn’t eat tomatoes. He has a networking laugh that we can’t help but cackle at.
“The love from you three is ‘Ow,’” Schultz said in the car ride home. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
It’s a sentiment felt across the board — we wouldn’t have had it any other way.