When we think of March Madness, many people think of basketball. The high school and college basketball seasons have reached their peak as state and national tournaments are taking place. Gyms across the country are filled with spectators cheering on their favorite team. "DEFENSE, DEFENSE" can be heard chanted loud and clear as one team wants the ball back. Parents start milking early to try to make it uptown to watch their children play.
In rural communities, basketball brings everyone together in the gym. When the game is not going on, you can hear the farmers chatting about frozen waterers, how soon will spring get here, or the price of hay at the local auction barn. These games also serve as fundraisers for families fighting cancer or experiencing other hardships, at times with silent auctions, 50/50 raffles or Miracle Minute bucket pass arounds during half time.
Some of the kids running up and down the court shot their first basket as a young child in the hay loft of the family barn. Many family games of horse or 3-on-3 have occurred in those lofts. Some of those hoops may just hold dust now, while others still get a ball to swish through the net.
For our family, the barn hoop is in our calf barn. Several years ago, I found a hoop for $1 at a white elephant sale, and I picked up a net at Farm & Fleet. The boys found an old piece of plywood to use as a backboard, researched legal height and worked together to hang it up. When they were younger, I would be working in the feeder room washing bottles, cleaning the automatic feeder or doing paperwork while listening to the ball bouncing as they played together. One day the Goodwill store had a backboard. That came home with me, and the piece of plywood came down. It wasn’t much of an investment, but the memories and lessons will be with us for eternity.
One of my fondest memories was when the boys took an old tractor tire tube that was inflated to use on the sledding hill and placed it on top of a tote of feed sitting near the hoop. I walked into the barn to find them taking turns sitting in the tube trying to make baskets. There have been birthday parties when we had groups of little boys shooting hoops in their snowsuits. After a tough varsity game, my youngest will go down to the calf barn to practice shooting if he felt he had an off night.
All three of my sons played basketball from fifth to eighth grade, but it’s my youngest that plays in high school. It has been fun these past two years traveling around to small rural towns to watch the teams. Some of those schools have modern gyms with plastic bleachers, while others have older gyms with wooden bleachers that have seen generations of families swish balls from the 3-point line. We have two more years of traveling these country roads to cheer him on. He has grown much in his athletic abilities, and I am looking forward to cheering him on.
On a dairy farm, taking a few minutes to bounce a ball, play a game of horse, giggle and try to outsmart a family member can be relaxing and rewarding. It might just be the much-needed short break from plowing snow. As we work through this season called March Madness, dust off your basketball, find the hoop in the hay loft and shoot a few. Reflect back on the joy of such a simple activity that taught teamwork, defense, agility and more.