March madness has a meaning in popular culture that dates back to the 1940’s. For those of you who do not follow basketball, March madness refers specifically to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) college basketball championships. Most of these championship games are played in March, and followed with astonishingly reverential and lively interest. Steve, my landscape superintendent, does not look kindly on any activity which interferes with a March NCAA game. He likes his March to himelf. Gardeners host championships every month of the year-but at least in my zone, not in March. March is the next to the last of the tail end of winter. This is a polite way of saying that March 1 does not necessarily mean spring. My need for spring is always early. Once March arrives, winter stocism starts giving way in a big way for a longing for spring.
Am I longing for spring? No doubt. A high temperature with snow showers today is disheartening at best, and really aggrevating at worst. Our last heavy wet snow, so gorgeous as it fell, is now glued into place, and has an annoying and treacherous crust. This state of affairs-courtesy of recent temperatures significantly below freezing. Everwhere, the landscape is represented by ice. Dirty ice. Gray skies. Snow showers. As for a gardener’s version of March madness, I think I might be afflicted. I don’t want to be out, nor do I want to be in. That cooped up feeling has intensified like a storm exactly on track. My winter coat feels like a soft walled version of jail. I am tired of that chilly and speechless state of affairs.
Henry V Porter was a high school teacher and coach in Athens, Illinois. In 1942, he wrote this essay in which he coined the phrase- March Madness. At that time, basketball was a only a statewide event. His essay, though it is obviously dated, expresses in plain terms what it means to have a sincere passion.
March Madness, by Henry V Porter
Homo sapiens of the Hardwood Court is a hardy specie. There are millions of him. He exists through summer and fall, shows signs of animation through the winter and lives to the utmost during March when a hundred thousand pairs of rubber soled shoes slap the hardwood in a whirlwind of stops and pivots and dashes on the trail to the state basketball championships. He is a glutton for punishment. When the March madness is on him, midnight jaunts of a hundred miles on successive nights make him even more alert the next day. He will polish his pants on sixteen inches of bleacher seat through two games or three and take offense if asked to leave during the intermission between sessions. He is happy only when the floor shimmers with reflections of fast moving streaks of color, when the players swarm at each end and the air is full of leather. For the duration of the endemic he is a statistical expert who knows the record of each contender, a game strategist who spots the weak points in a given system of offense or defense, a rules technician who instructs the officials without cost or request. Every basketball canine has his day and this is the month.
He is a doodler who, while conversing, scribbles free throw lanes with a hundred radiating alleys. In May the three symbols of the New York Fair will take on their intended meaning but in March the helicline is a ramp to the balcony, the trylon is the pyramid of hundreds of teams being narrowed down to the one at the state championship pinnacle and the perisphere has the traditional four panel basketball markings.
In everyday life he is a sane and serious individual trying to earn enough to pay his taxes. But he does a Jekyll-Hyde act when the spell is on him. He likes his coffee black and his basketball highly spiced. He despises the stall unless his team is ahead. It is a major crime for the official to call a foul on the dribbler unless the opponent was dribbling. His moods are as changeable as the March wind. He flies into a frenzy at some trivial happening on the court and before his vocal expression of disapproval is half completed he howls in delight at the humorous twist of a comment from a bleacher wit. He is part of the mass mind and is subject to its whims. He berates the center for attempting a long shot and lauds him when it goes in the basket. He is consistent only in his inconsistencies.
The thud of the ball on the floor, the slap of hands on leather, the swish of the net are music in his ears. He is a connoisseur in matters pertaining to team coordination and artistry in action. The shifting zone, the screen and the spot pass are an open book to him. He speaks the language.
He is biased, noisy, fidgety, boastful and unreasonable but we love him for his imperfections. His lack of inhibitions adds a spontaneity that colors the tournaments. Without darkness there would be no light. A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.
The writer’s temperature is rising. The thing is catching. It’s got me! Gimme that playing schedule!
I did edit Henry’s essay, to the tune of two words. Does Henry’s essay not equally describe a passionate gardener? March Madness-I am sure I have contracted it.