March Madness Milestones

March Madness Milestones

By the time you’re reading this, an NCAA basketball champion will have already been crowned and the NBA Playoffs, NFL Draft and MLB Opening Day will be gearing up, keeping the sports machine going… The sports machine never quits.

Not surprisingly, I still have a bittersweet relationship with sports after abandoning my goals of being on ESPN one day and joyfully becoming a therapist almost 15 years ago. Writing about different ways athletes found the endzone, drained a 3-pointer, or blasted a big fly over the fence became quite boring to me. And, seeing these exceptional athletes as idols didn’t help either. I instead wanted to invest in the personhood of those same athletes as well as those who didn’t have an athletic bone in their bodies.

But, with all that being said, I still marvel at how well sports does the celebration of milestones correctly, especially in college basketball. And, unfortunately, I find myself constantly thinking the exact opposite about how we as a community approach our children and teenagers, particularly in academics. More on that in a second…

First, back to college basketball and the amazing “all-arounded”ness of March Madness. Here’s the cycle of milestones celebrated in college basketball every season this time of year:

Win your conference regular season title by having the most wins against your conference foes – an all-night team celebration that begins at midcourt with the sound of the final buzzer, clinching your first place status! Win your conference tournament after that – celebrate again and raise that fresh banner to your gym rafters! Excitingly awaiting on campus where you’ll be heading Selection Sunday – sheer joy shown together when your team’s March Madness spot is announced for the whole world to see even through the shoddy camerawork.

And, it doesn’t stop there either. Win your first-, second-round regional bracket games and earn your spot in the Sweet Sixteen – yet another on-court celebration! Win two more games and head to the Final Four – get the ladder out and cut down the nets from the arena! Legal destruction of property…a college student’s paradise.

Win again in the Final Four semifinals, arrive to the finals, win the national championship, then the ultimate on-court and locker room celebration! Also, let’s not forget returning home to your city or college town and having a parade thrown for your whole team!

Meanwhile, the contrast couldn’t be more glaring of how we treat our students kindergarten through college. It couldn’t be more dull, exhausting, and unappreciative of their awesomeness. With every academic milestone, it’s just received as an expectation accomplished. It’s the worst kind of machine.

At most, our students receive a customary good job, pat on the back, maybe a night out to dinner, then a not-so-veiled reminder of the next academic milestone to move toward.

It’s no wonder the students in our community have such an anxious and depressed relationship with everyday academics, college aspirations, and career pursuits. We should all inject some March Madness energy into the reception of all our students’ milestones, and right this ship before it continues to sink.