Forum: Don’t have to be a fan to find meaning in March Madness

The NCAAs tournaments captivate with Cinderella stories, involvement and the proof of perseverance.

Kathy Solberg (Herald file photo)

Kathy Solberg (Herald file photo)

By Kathy Solberg / Herald Forum

I have always been one of those that gets excited when March Madness comes around. The celebration of college basketball with all of the men’s and women’s NCAA teams. And those brackets; how I love to fill in my brackets. There was a time I would spend hours pouring over Nate Silver’s data-based assessments, the USA Today reports, Yahoo team analysis and countless other resources to help me pick the bracket that stood out among them all. I had a chance even if I was not an athlete or expert.

They call this The Big Dance. Most of us carry some scars from a dance in our years on this earth. Will Cinderella be on the floor? Who will remind us that odds are to be beaten? Can sheer will, teamwork and a basketball be the tools of victory? Maybe dances aren’t so bad afterall.

Why, when I am not a basketball fan, not a college basketball fan and not a huge sports enthusiast do I become so enamored with this process? I decided to take a look at that and have a few insights to share.

Rooting for the underdog: We all love a “Cinderella” story. The language used for the teams that come from the bottom of the pack to upset one of the top-seeded teams. I find the roots of the Cinderella connection in sports came in 1935 when boxer James J. Braddock was called the Cinderella Man after beating Max Baer to win the heavyweight title. I don’t know much about boxing. I do recall that “Max Baer” was my answer to every Trivial Pursuit question in the sports category related to boxing. But basketball is our topic at hand. We have the Gonzaga reference in 1999 when they beat Florida in the Sweet 16 and Gus Johnson announced “The Slipper Still Fits.”The NCAA’s first “Cinderella” team arrived in 1947 when Holy Cross won the title coming from apparently nowhere. The list is long and my memory includes Davidson in 2008, Virginia Commonwealth in 2011 and Florida Gulf Coast in 2013.

I believe we all see ourselves as an underdog in some arena. We want to believe that those with privilege, opportunity, money, connections and the best education will not always come out on top. We instead believe there is room for hard work, self-education, sweat equity, ethics, a strong moral compass and showing up fully to do our best work. The strongest do not always come out on top and that demonstration each year in the NCAA tournaments reminds us we truly can strive to be what we want to be and our hope is real and the possibilities are endless even when people tell us that the odds are stacked against us or the mold does not look like we do.

So here we are, with our bracket busted and somehow OK with it. Thank you, Fairleigh Dickinson for helping us believe. Thank you Furman University for the reminder that miracles are just sometimes hard work and showing up! Remember, anyone can be a hero and realize dreams.

Participation: We all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We yearn to be a part of and share in common horizons and experiences. We watch a team come together and move as one; connected by invisible threads that define offense and defense. ESPN alone had more than 20 million bracket entries this year. And note that after Princeton knocked out Arizona this year, only 35,000 were still holding the promise of perfection; 0.17 percent of the brackets still in the running. That number was less on all of the brackets on NCAA and Yahoo sites. Millions gather to complete a bracket and be a part of the game. A part of something bigger than themselves.

For perspective, in 2019 over 70 million brackets were completed and in 2018 President Biden received more than 81 million votes, in 2016 President Trump received 63 million votes and in 2012 President Obama received 66 million. I am not suggesting the NCAA Bracket run as a third party, simply that we can learn something about voter engagement from the sports arena and that basketball is a coming together that seems to be doing something right with its outreach and inclusion.

You do not need to be an expert to complete a bracket and have a chance to win your family, office, or sports site pool if you pick by color, name, coin toss or random selection. We are alongside millions of others participating. Many have heard me as I talk about community and remind individuals that we are biologically wired to be connected to one another. We seek out both community and connectedness.

Endurance: Post covid, we strive to hold on to the things that make sense. Two years ago, March Madness was a casualty of covid. Last year, efforts to hold the tradition in place while pandemic conditions still raged meant small crwods. This March, perhaps you can hear Dick Vitale: “We’re back, baybeeeee!”

The NCAA tournament seems to have examined itself and found a way to continue to be relevant and thrive post pandemic. My current work is about assessing with adaptive action techniques where we have been the last two years and noticing where barriers existed in order to remove them. Noticing what we have learned in order to improve the broken systems that surround us to fix some of our social problems and create the world we want to be in.

The endurance of this event and of the players show how you can keep running and working and passing even when we all realize the stamina it takes to be an athlete (and a student) at this level. You have to show up, do your best and know that with that best, you may win and if not, you go home. Then, as with adaptive practices, it is time to assess what is needed next and keep showing up to impact through your hard work, focus and actions.

I love the energy and enthusiasm and witness the connection. I love the reminder that there is always possiblity when we bring our best self. I value seeing systems that thrived pre-pandemic return in full force especially when that return is reflective of some self examination and analysis. I know we can thrive in many arenas and do the work to create the place we want to be.

Even when our proverbial brackets are “busted.”

Kathy Solberg leads a consulting business, CommonUnity. Learn more at

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Wednesday, June 7

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Lummi Tribal members Ellie Kinley, left, and Raynell Morris, president and vice president of the non-profit Sacred Lands Conservancy known as Sacred Sea, lead a prayer for the repatriation of southern resident orca Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut — who has lived and performed at the Miami Seaquarium for over 50 years — to her home waters of the Salish Sea at a gathering Sunday, March 20, 2022, at the sacred site of Cherry Point in Whatcom County, Wash.

The Bellingham Herald
Editorial: What it will require to bring Tokitae home

Bringing home the last captive orca requires expanded efforts to restore the killer whales’ habitat.

A map of the I-5/SR 529 Interchange project on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Set your muscle memory for work zone speed cameras

Starting next summer, not slowing down in highway work zones can result in a $500 fine.

File - A teenager holds her phone as she sits for a portrait near her home in Illinois, on Friday, March 24, 2023. The U.S. Surgeon General is warning there is not enough evidence to show that social media is safe for young people — and is calling on tech companies, parents and caregivers to take "immediate action to protect kids now." (AP Photo Erin Hooley, File)
Editorial: Warning label on social media not enough for kids

The U.S. surgeon general has outlined tasks for parents, officials and social media companies.

Burke: We’re not ready for the Big One, but we must prepare

The biggest shock won’t be the quake but the realization that help will take longer to reach us than we thought.

What levy lid lift for Fire District 4 will fund

Snohomish County Fire District 4 firefighters want to thank the district’s Board… Continue reading

Where is man’s say in abortion decision?

George Will in a recent column in The Herald seeks to find… Continue reading

Comment: Insurance providers lead climate change’s ‘managed retreat’

State Farm won’t write new fire insurance policies in California. Forcing it to do so ignores the inevitable.

Comment: Christie can’t win; but he could block Trump’s path

If he wants to take down Trump, he should consider the successes and failures or other ‘protest’ candidates.

Most Read