Thursday, November 03, 2011

HoopUcation: Introduction

As I mentioned in the season’s initial post, a bracket-centric focus seems less relevant these days given the army of capable bracketeers out there. I find myself rethinking what I can add to this conversation, while not giving up “bracketing” every Sunday night from January until March. It has been a hobby of mine for over two decades now. I love engaging in the process, and will continue to do so. A longer essay about identity and doing work that we love will come later, but today I offer a taste of the kind of work that will happen here.

I am a teacher (more on that in the coming “love your work” essay). Helping students see academic disciplines at work in everyday life is a crucial element of my teaching philosophy. For my money, sports (and food) offer some of the richest interdisciplinary experiences we encounter (also, they are “five sense” experiences). So, in short, I feel the content of this blog going in the direction of answering a fundamental question: how can we use college basketball to teach ourselves and others about the world around us? As I said, a longer essay on all this is brewing.

Today, I offer an example of the kind of work I hope to share here on a regular basis this season. File this one under both “teacher” and “daddy.” As a boy growing up in the Eighties, I learned United States geography through college basketball conference affiliation. Some glorious weekend in October, Dick Vitale’s College Basketball Yearbook would hit the local drugstore’s magazine rack, and I would giddily grab it and run to my mother yelling “It’s here today! Can I get it?!” She always said “Yes,” and the stat-ogling would begin. When I grew tired of marveling at how many points Reggie Miller or Reggie Williams averaged or at the size of the Carrier Dome or at the enrollment at Texas, I moved on to drawing uniforms and mascots. Eventually, at some point, this rural Kentucky boy would dig up a map of the United States and hunt for places like Corvallis, Oregon, or Lafayette, Louisiana. I made it a point to know all of the Division I teams, their colors, and their mascots.

So, now as father-teacher, I aim to revisit some of these practices with a four-year-old boy (my daughter is a bit young for this right now, but I hope this can come for her, too). A current obsession of his happens to be maps. This sparked the thought of a massive college hoops project to usher in the season: plot all 345 teams. Yesterday, I created a giant paper map in pencil, and allowed my son to trace over the pencil sketch with a black marker to create those stark state borders essential to understanding concepts like “in-state rivalry” and “border wars.” Perhaps those concepts are a bit advanced for a four-year-old, but a sense of place and geography are not.

There will be more on this project as we go along, but a good work session last night yielded these results:


Kentucky and Tennessee up close.

Note that we plotted WKU first, followed by other member Sun Belt institutions. After that, the remaining Kentucky schools went on. Beyond that, I left it up to my son to ask questions and pick states until the session ended. This morning, he rolled out of bed, and his first words to me were, “What about Rhode Island?” So, we put URI’s baby blue and Providence’s black on the map before breakfast.

Curiosity. It is the greatest gift given from teacher to student. And, actually, curiosity is not given, but stirred or inspired or uncovered. That is one of the greatest aspects of a sport with 345 teams: from year to year, there is always room for curiosity.