What I Learned About Storming the Court
This item already ran in Sunday's newspaper as an excerpt of the D.C. Sports Bog, so to make that retroactively correct, I figured I should post it here. Put it in chapter 427 of "how newspapers are acting weird about the Internet."
Over the past week, a trio of nearby schools--George Mason, American and UMBC--claimed NCAA tournament berths. All three wins were accompanied by the iconic image of March: hundreds of fans, media members and college basketball players irrepressibly drawn to center court, like Dick Vitale to a Duke game, or like John Feinstein to a joke about the NCAA's corporate partners. The practice has caused occasional injuries and has been restricted by some conferences, and yet last week's local displays were largely joyous affairs. Herewith, eight things you might not have known about storming the court, from someone who was in the middle of all three storms.
1) Stopping the human flow might have unimpeachable operational and safety justifications, but it's still a little sad. ESPN.com contributor Kyle Whelliston, the creator of MidMajority.com, attended five conference title games this month, including the Ohio Valley's, where the security lines held against Austin Peay's would-be revelers.
"There was like a repression, a sexual repression," Whelliston said. "I felt for the kids. These are 18, 19-year old kids, and court storming is a very sexual act. It is like nature itself happening. I just hope they win a game at the NCAA tournament, so they can release some of that repressed energy."
2) A gathering storm takes some time. The final 126 seconds of George Mason's win were marred by 10 personal fouls, giving security personnel plenty of time to clear a path for the river of humanity. At American, a complicated jump-ball ruling with less than five seconds left caused a lengthy officials' conference that put the celebration on pause, leaving fans dancing in the aisles. And at UMBC, a shot-clock violation with less than a second on the clock caused a false start, with dozens of students sprinting onto the court and then sprinting right back off.
"It was a technicality," said student spirit coordinator Jake Steel. "We jumped the gun a little bit, but we're so new at it."
"We told them to wait for the final buzzer," said Kyle Lewis, an event staffer. "Obviously they butchered it."
3) Once you're past the security guards, other obstacles remain.
"I was trying to get over the chairs," said American senior KC Costanzo. "I wasn't sure if I should try to hurdle them. I couldn't think of a good way to do it, so I just wound up kicking them out of the way."
"I kicked a lot of people with my boot, I'm not going to lie," said UMBC's Uwem Eshietedoho, who was wearing street clothes due to a fractured left foot. "I stepped on a lot of people. Not really hard, though. I stepped lightly."
4) You've got to be alert, for bodies are coming from all directions.
"Some kids were actually climbing over the scorer's table, which I did not expect," said American assistant coach Kieran Donohue. "Some kid with a mohawk jumped over the scorer's table and almost knocked me over, but I didn't get trampled."
"I was just trying to swim my way out," said Tyler Massey, a 6-foot-10 250-pound forward for UMBC.
"I was a wrestler in college," said UMBC Athletic Director Charlie Brown. "I can handle it."
5) The eye of the storm is a strange, mysterious place.
"The temperature went from a pleasant 68 to, I'm guessing, around 125," Whelliston said after the UMBC storm.
"It was really hot, SUMMERTIME hot," agreed Grace Silva, a UMBC student.
"The noise was deafening; a constant clamor," said UMBC forward Cavell Johnson. "It was so loud that it was quiet."
6) There's more hugging than at a Promise Keepers rally.
How many hugs?
"At least 60," said UMBC assistant Aki Thomas.
"A million," guessed UMBC point guard Jay Greene. "Too many to count."
"I don't think I've hugged that many people since my wedding, to be honest," said Donohue, the American assistant. "I may have actually hugged more people today than I did at my wedding."
"There were definitely some awkward hugs,' said Scott Lombardi, a George Mason graduate assistant. "I got bear-hugged from behind by some random person I didn't even know. To be honest, it kind of hurt."
7) Prepare to get dirty.
"I mean, the stench was a little overwhelming," said Costanzo, the American student.
"It smelled like basketball, that's what it smelled like," UMBC's Silva said. "When you hugged players and they hugged you, there was sweat on your arms. I felt like I myself played a basketball game."
"You had people in body paint and people who were in work clothes who were all jumping on each other, and it didn't even matter if their clothes got ruined or not," said Ryan Sherwin, a recent American grad. "Sweat, blood, whatever was on the court with the players and fans got on you. It didn't really matter, as long as you got out there."
8) The storm leaves debris in its wake. After UMBC officials cleared the court, four stranded sets of keys remained behind.
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