According to my expert NCAA College Basketball bracket extrapolations, the Duke University Blue Devils were supposed to best the University of New Mexico Lobos in the championship. Unfortunately for me, that prediction hiccupped and died when—in the very first round of action—Mercer bedeviled Duke and Stanford went loco on the Lobos. Left now with a busted bracket, I’m relegated to abiding the insults of fellow friends whose chosen teams are still alive and kicking.
I’m also relegated to watching the tournament for fun. Which isn’t all that bad. Because the games aren’t played for bracket pickers. Well, they are, I guess. But they belong to the players, the coaches, and the fans who love those players, coaches, and the game itself. It pains me to see, every year, players and fans breaking down and crying when their teams lose. Just yesterday, TV cameras kept alighting on the same young Kansas Jayhawk fan who began shedding premature tears as the Jayhawks fell further and further behind. Those same TV cameras caught the boy’s hopeful reactions as the Jayhawks rallied late with a barrage of majestic three-pointers. But the Jayhawks came up short at the very end, and the young fan was duly devastated—for all to see.
On a March evening in the spring of 1990, the Storden-Jeffers Chiefs were playing the Fairmont Cardinals in the Region 2 basketball tournament in Worthington, Minnesota. I can still smell the popcorn, hear the ball thumping the hardwood, see the red and black-themed markings on the court. Storden-Jeffers was coached by my father, and I was the junior high student manager.
Our senior-dominant team was special that year and led by the playmaking of dual point guards Nate Meyer and Chad Wille, the smooth machinations of forwards Jason Pauling and Shawn Haken, the nimble post play of Darren Hoehne, and—most of all—the electric shooting of Dominic Turner, my childhood basketball hero. Dom could and would toss in threeballs from up to 30 feet out, and he wore cheap black Pony high-tops and a retro flat top hairdo with arrows carved into the temples. The way his number 25 jersey somehow became untucked midway through every fourth quarter so that it would flap behind him was something we ballplaying wannabes in the younger grades took great pains to try to imitate.
We had already won the District 7 title in an epic shootout with the Westbrook Wildcats. In that game, Dom was magnificent. In addition to making the plays and hitting the shots, he didn’t back down when three of the Wildcat players—their own seasons about to end—tried roughing him up in the game’s last minute. But Dom stood up to them without drawing a technical foul, and we loved him as equally that night for his three-pointers as for his poise and control. We were two wins away from the state tournament, which meant that not only glory and large trophies awaited, but a two-day vacation from school as well. Oh, we were ready. Nothing would stop the Columbia and Navy. Storden-Jeffers Chiefs, hey fight / Let’s win this game tonight / You’re on the top / You mighty Chiefs, don’t stop / Keep going all the way / Hey! Hey! Hey! / Storden-Jeffers Chiefs are the best / Surely you’ll defeat all the rest / Fight on, SJHS / And you’ll lead us to victory, you bet!
Fairmont was in our way. They were so in our way. One might actually pity Fairmont and their poor Cardinals. Fairmont was going down. Fairmont was going down big-time.
Fairmont beat us.
Oh, did it hurt. Oh, did it sting. How could it be? The Cardinals’ defense just never let Dom loose, and their star player, Cory Kallheim (a name I shall never forget), was a rosy-cheeked point guard who seemed quicker and more accurate a passer and shooter than anyone I’d ever seen. Standing out of view in the locker room’s darkened showers after the game, I listened to my pop’s quiet end-of-the-season speech to my heroes and silently bawled my eyes out, a concoction of hot tears the like of which could never be recreated flowing like The Mississip. I couldn’t believe that we lost. I couldn’t believe that I would never again see Dom Turner play for the Storden-Jeffers Chiefs.
Except—as I found when I came to learn about the power of story—that I could. I just did. I saw Dom’s black Pony high tops, his flapping shirttail, the way he cocked the ball over his flat top just before letting a three-point jumper fly. You were there, too.
-Nate LeBoutillier, Senior Editor