Something Familiar

There’s something different in the air this February morning.

It isn’t exactly a smell, however the wafting aromas of freshly popped popcorn does overtake my senses. It isn’t exactly a sight, but the vision of a young kid supposedly under his parent’s supervision demolishing a maple bar doesn’t get old. It isn’t exactly the feeling of a cold hardwood floor that needs to be swept early in the morning just like it isn’t exactly the sound of a bouncing ball echoing off the empty walls but there is something here.

There is something emanating from center court, from the rafters, the stands, and from the team huddles.

It’s tournament basketball time in Montana, and my favorite time of the year.

The anticipatory excitement I felt driving up to Great Falls Tuesday evening was hard to contain. I thought back to some of my greatest memories of tournaments past.

There were the days, back not so long ago, but long enough that the youngest of us don’t remember what a treat it was to sit sopping in sweat in Paris Gibson’s Gymnasium. The Saturday afternoon that my best friend and I watched six games in-a-row from half court on those hard-wooden bleachers without moving because we didn’t want to miss out on watching the best basketball from the best seats. Talk about bleacher butt.

The memory of watching two fan bases separated by fenceposts react so differently to Rachel Semansky’s rebound put-back before the buzzer in the 8C Girls Championship. Squeezed together in a cracker box middle school gymnasium and the mercury rising well beyond 80 degrees the atmosphere of those waning moments was invigorating to say the least.

Then there was the new home of the 8C Tournament at Great Falls High. Sure, the floor was better than the Paris gym and sure the bleachers didn’t make you walk funny for the next week and a half but something was different.

The venue changed. The times were changing. But the game was the same.

In District Tournament basketball, time doesn’t matter because the people stay the same. Sure the 1995 Belt State Championship sweater might be a little more snug around the midsection but the man wearing it still feels a little something tugging on his heartstrings as he listens to the start of his school song during warmups. His response to the conversation he was having about the weather dissipates out of tradition and he stands slowly to clap along with the beat.

If you’ve ever played Class C basketball you know the people are what make it great.

From the little old lady with more player picture buttons on her jacket than anyone you’ve ever seen before, who is sweet as can be until the referee calls a travel on her grandson, to the loudest fan in every section who ends up with legroom because no one dares to sit in front of him.

This is something to be said about basketball in Montana. Something that is so ritualistic about tournament time that makes it familiar enough you can almost taste the salty popcorn or the maple bar the little kid has smeared all over his face. You can see the crowd before you even walk in the door because tournament time is always the same.

It’s always the best time of the year.

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