My earliest memory of NCAA basketball is from when I was 7. That year, my dad introduced me to bracket picks and from then on I was hooked. Back then, you had to wait until the newspaper was delivered on the Monday after Selection Sunday for the the official brackets. It was then that Poppy and I would pour over the paper for hours until we had made our selections. Then we would hand write them on the newspaper chart and hang on the refrigerator. We always used different colors so that we could keep track of who picked which team. It wasn’t until the early 90’s that we had to switch to all ink writing utensils due to a foul deed committed by SOMEONE who wrote their picks in pencil and decided to change one of their picks after a game had ended. The first day of the tournament was always my favorite. It was like packing the excitement of Christmas and the anticipation of a vacation into one television event. Poppy and I would gather our snacks for the night and spread them out in the living room. We would settled into our seats for a full night of basketball, our newspaper bracket anxiously waiting on the coffee table. Neither my sisters nor my mom were interested in the festivities, so it was just me and my dad. It was great. I got to stay up until the final game of the night was over–even though it was a school night. Hours and hours of pure excitement–just me and Poppy. I never told my dad this, but when I was 7, I had no interest in basketball. I was 7. I really went along with this bracket thing because he picked ME to do something out of the ordinary and it felt great. Poppy comes from a house of 6 boys and sometimes I think he felt a little awkward having 3 daughters; like perhaps he just didn’t how to connect with us girls. I don’t know what made him decide that year to include me in the March Madness but I am forever grateful for that day. That day was the beginning of my evolution into the sports fanatic I am today and the close relationship I have with my dad. That day was the beginning of an annual tradition that continued as I grew, even after I went away to college, got married, and had children of my own. Every year, without fail, I would come home to make my bracket picks. When I moved out of state, my picks were done over the phone. The advancement in technology has allowed us for several years now to make our tourney picks online (so no cheating). Poppy and I still do our competition every year but the list of contenders has grown to include my husband, my sister and brother-in-law, and my own kids. I still gather my snacks around me and settle into my spot on the couch and watch the games with my kiddos. They, too, have gotten excited when they reach the age where they get to participate in our bracket competition. We still keep our picks handy during the games, just like my dad and I did, but instead of having them handwritten on the newspaper, we now keep track of our wins and losses on an app on our respective devices. Over 30 years later, there is still nothing quite like that first night of the tournament and every year I still feel that same excitement and anticipation I felt during my first NCAA bracket experience. And every year I still feel like that 7 year old girl–filled with excitement and gratitude to be sharing in something with the people I love.
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