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OP-ED: THE IDLE AMERICAN: Blessed are the poor

Don Newbury

Abilene Christian University’s stunning 53-52 win over the University of Texas at the NCAA Basketball Championship Tournament is a great example of why the annual event is called “March Madness.”

It was ACU’s second trip to the “big dance,” and its first win in the biggest basketball upset since David bested Goliath. Abilene radio sportscaster Grant Boone mentioned, “Blessed are the poor” during the broadcast, pointing to UT’s $200 million athletic budget and ACU’s upwards of $20 million.

It was ACU’s biggest basketball win in school history, equaled only by an individual athlete,  Olympic gold medalist Bobby Morrow, known for making tracks instead of baskets in the 1950s. Like Morrow in the sprints, the current basketballers are a “won’t quit” team.

So how did the Wildcats pull off such a win over the Longhorns? There are many theories, but my aged Uncle Mort down in the thicket has an opinion that–if weighed, wouldn’t amount to a postage stamp.

“I think they were preoccupied, unable to think about basketball,” Mort said of the stunned Longhorns. “How could they be expected to be at their best when so much is expected of them off the court?” I thought he was referencing eligibility and/or matters of conduct.

I was way off base. Mort had heard “it” from a guy filling up with gas at the general store. He drew a small crowd with the “news” that UT-basketballers had pledged to write a new school song that EVERYONE would like. Pressed for details, the motorist said that “news” of the team’s coming up with a new school song is “all over the Internet.”

Well, now, there, then. That was evidence enough for Mort, who–like claims on TV’s “Hee-Haw”–hates to repeat gossip, but doesn’t know what else to do with it. His mind swirled, thinking of how easily one player painted himself into the smallest of corners, bragging that he and his buddies could write a new school song that would merit 100% approval.

“Sure enough,” Mort said. “They have a ‘one for all and all for one’ bond, and they probably set out to ‘compose,’ their only restraint being to avoid lyrical references to working on railroads.” (I know, some UT diehards are claiming that the ‘Horns were “rail-roaded.”)

As fate would have it, Mort said, the players were “all strung out” on songwriting instead of playing basketball.

For starters, the ‘Horns–opening and ending the game with turnovers–had a season-high 24 miscues. Such numbers almost always lead to losses, ye the ‘Horns almost prevailed.

ACU hit only 29.9% and 16.7%, respectively, from two- and three-point range. These are almost always losing numbers, yet the ‘Cats won.

The most telling stat was rebounding. ACU grabbed 18 offensive boards and UT only five. Coupling their board work with the forced turnovers, the ACU’ers had 27 more shot attempts than UT, and adrenaline pumping like David’s when he slung the stone.

The late Fred Sanner, former sports editor of the Abilene-Reporter News, was a big ACU fan, partially because of track great, Bobby Morrow. The larger parts of his writing career–cut short by his death at age 56–were in Abilene and at the Austin American Statesman for about a decade each. He was unforgettable, this 350-pounder whose only “marriage” was to his job.

I remember his blinding speed on a manual typewriter, up to 35 words per minute, some said. Known for his 20-hour workdays, Sanner reached reaching 35 wpm wasn’t bad, since he used only his index fingers.

Again, I digress. Fred loved writing about ACU and the Abilene High Eagles–who won 49 straight games during his tenure there–and about the ‘Horns during Austin duty.

Were he still in Abilene, I can imagine his pleading with the editor to drag out the biggest headline font size font to herald ACU’s historic basketball win. His editor might have been adamant, emphasizing that such big type was being saved for the Second Coming. “Okay then,” Fred might have countered. “Give it the second-largest font, and above the fold on the front page.”

Dr. Newbury is a long-time public speaker and university president who writes weekly. Email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Facebook: Don Newbury. Twitter: @donnewbury.