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Going the Distance

Looking across the Gettysburg Battlefield, on the Spirit of Gettysburg 5K race course

Looking across the Gettysburg Battlefield, on the Spirit of Gettysburg 5K race course

By Karen Hendricks

I crossed something off my bucket list last week… it was something I honestly never thought I’d accomplish especially given my age. Not that I’m over the hill, but getting back into RUNNING at the age of 44 while juggling a family and career isn’t something that naturally fits right into an already-packed, super-busy schedule.

However… Last week I ran my first ever 5K. Can I just take a minute to say “I did it!” 🙂

I have always wanted to run a 5K, planned on doing them in my teens when I ran high school track. But when I was 16, I fell down a flight of stairs and cracked one of my kneecaps. Thus ended my running days. Until recently.

I tried to get back into running several times in the 20s but the twinges in my knee came back every time. Then came career, kids, and no spare time to even consider thinking about running. But for the past several years, taking a mixture of pilates, yoga and ballet classes, plus staying active with walking and biking, I honestly feel stronger and healthier now than ever before. So, keeping my fingers crossed, I slowly got back into running over the past year. It felt great to run intervals, interspersed with periods of walking, as I totaled 3-5 miles. Finding the time isn’t as much as a challenge now that my kids are a bit older (in their teens). One of the easiest ways for me to work walking and running into my schedule is to do it while my daughter has soccer practice at a park. But my favorite time of day is first thing in the morning—what a great start to the day. And the kids are certainly capable of getting their own breakfasts if I’m gone for a little while!

So I was feeling good, pretty happy to have “running” back in my life, but a 5K really wasn’t on my radar screen. Like most things in life, it isn’t until something is staring me in the face, that I think it might be a good idea!

My daughter Kelly is extremely athletic and runs a local 5K every year, either winning or placing in her teenage age group. This year she was signed up and ready to run, but about two weeks beforehand, she sprained her foot. A week before the race, it was obvious that her foot wasn’t going to allow her to run as usual. So, in a light bulb kind of moment, I decided I should change her registration to my name (and my age category!) and run the race instead. I’d always wanted to run a 5K, right? No time like the present. Like Nike says, “Just do it.” Did I mention, it was one week before the race?

My family’s reactions varied… my husband was supportive but concerned I was going to hurt myself. My daughter Katie was excited and volunteered to take photos to document my journey over the finish line. My daughter Kelly laughed, but then offered her runner’s insights throughout the week, as she explained how to tackle certain sections and hills on the race course. My son Kyle was pretty flabbergasted about the idea that his Mom might actually be able to run a 5K.

The gorgeous setting of the Spirit of Gettysburg 5K

The gorgeous setting of the Spirit of Gettysburg 5K

Every other day leading up to the race, I ran three miles and surprisingly, my times weren’t terrible. I wouldn’t embarrass myself too badly. No pain in the knee either. I continued my ballet workouts on alternating days, taking extra time to stretch, although I honestly didn’t have muscle cramps or pains. I rested completely the day before the race.

I figured I couldn’t back out, if I told people publicly about my plans. So the day before the 5K, after I picked up my runner’s packet and bib number, I posted my picture and the following message on Facebook:

5K

I was completely blown away by all the Facebook love that followed… words of encouragement, support and well wishes. It was awesome! The positive power of social media at work.

Then came race day. The forecast was ideal—cool morning temperatures with partly cloudy skies (no bright sunshine). However, upon waking up that morning… rain. Oh joy.

I convinced myself that I would run, rain or shine. But thankfully, about 10-15 minutes before the 8 am start, the rain stopped. What an adrenalin rush, to be part of a crowd of runners, 700 strong, at the starting line. To hear the sound of that many footsteps, along with cheers from the crowd of families and friends lining the course… it was music to my ears.

Here I go...

Here I go…

Several things helped to pull me along as I ran: first, the beautiful course which winds its way across the historic Gettysburg Battlefield; thoughts of my supportive family and friends—especially all those encouraging Facebook messages; but perhaps most of all, it was a drive within myself. Once you’re a mom and have survived those “marathon” days when your children are sick or going through difficult situations, I think there is absolutely nothing else on this earth that you cannot accomplish. There is nothing as challenging, trying and rewarding as being a mom. Running? I got this. Physically and mentally.

Crossing the finish line! Woohoo!

Crossing the finish line! Woohoo!

While my time didn’t win any awards, I felt as though I had a gold medal around my neck as I crossed the finish line. There were four times on the course when killer hills forced me to walk—I allowed myself no more than 100 steps at a time. I finished as runner #531 out of about 700, and I was 35th in my age group. My final time was 34:22… right in my target zone between 33 and 35 minutes. It meant a lot to have one of my best friends, fellow OTMGR blogger Mary Ann, at the finish line with my family as well!

And now I have a new goal… to keep working and improve upon my time for next year. Yes, I think I’ll be back! And now that I’ve said that publically… I have to do it!

After the race: Still smiling!

After the race: Still smiling!

 

For more information on the Spirit of Gettysburg 5K, sponsored by the YWCA of Gettysburg and Adams County, click here.

For more ideas on fitting exercise into your daily routine, click here for my previous post Work it Out: Finding Time for Mom

Check out my fellow blogger Jen’s 5K experience “5K… Hurray!” here

Feel free to share your advice with our community… how do you find time to run or exercise? Have you set a 5K goal? Do you run 5Ks regularly? We’d love to hear from you…

 

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Olympic Fever

Sochi's Ice Skating Venue - Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Atos International

Sochi’s Ice Skating Venue – Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Atos International

By Karen Hendricks

It’s one of the most inspiring, thrilling times on the planet–the 2014 Winter Olympic Games are underway and simply mesmerizing me with every story line. From the Opening Ceremonies straight through all of the events, I love to soak up all the stories behind the athletes–their incredible dedication to their sports, grueling training, heart-breaking injuries, triumphant comebacks, and their passionate attempts to “go for the gold.”

Olympic Opportunities

What a fantastic opportunity for families to enjoy all of the festivities together! I’m not typically one to leave the television on for long periods of time, but when the Olympics are on, I don’t mind leaving the TV on for long stretches of time for “unlimited watching.” Even if we’re not in the room, we can pop back in to catch all the important moments.

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Did you catch this performance?! The incredibly focused 15-year old Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia – Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Kremlin.ru

It’s a great time to talk to your kids about the value of setting goals, the importance of perseverance, and so much more:

  • How competition involves both physical and mental strength
  • The power of positive thinking
  • Always trying to do your best
  • Lessons learned from “not” winning
  • The grace and humility exhibited by many of the athletes
  • The spirit of patriotism
  • The amazing precision of teamwork in team events
  • What would it feel like, to have all eyes of the the world upon you?
  • What does it truly mean to be an Olympian?

Family is also a central theme at the Olympics. Not only do you see the sheer joy on the faces of family members cheering for their loved ones, but through the athletes’ stories, you understand how families’ support and love provides a foundation for years of training and preparation. The dreams of athletes can only become reality if they are uplifted and shared by their families.

Men's_500m,_2014_Winter_Olympics,_Michel_Mulder_and_Ronald_Mulder

Talk about family ties… twin brothers Michel and Ronald Mulder celebrate their speed skating medals. Representing The Netherlands, Michel Mulder won Gold, Ronald Mulder won bronze. Photo Credit: Licensed under Creative Commons through Wikimedia Commons.

 

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This sweet girl captured my heart during the Opening Ceremonies… Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Kremlin.ru

Here are a few more inspiring Olympic stories…

Click here to see NBC News’ coverage of the brotherly bond shared by Canadian freestyle skiier Alex Bilodeau and his older brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy.

And click here to see a photo collection of American skier Julia Mancuso celebrating her bronze medal in the Super Combined with her mother and grandmother, also from NBC News.

The Cake of Champions

One of my family’s favorite Olympic celebrations involves cake! For as long as I can remember, since my children were very young, we have made a cake and decorated it with M&M’s to form the Olympic rings. This delicious dessert works for both Winter and Summer Olympics… but one word of warning: unless you have a big crowd to devour it, the colors on the M&M’s “bleed” into the frosting when it sits for more than a day, even if refrigerated. It takes some planning to form the rings so here are a few tips: lightly press a glass into your frosting to form the outlines for the 5 rings, a younger child can separate the colors of M&M’s into small bowls, and an older child can place the candies into the frosting.

My daughter Katie celebrates the official cake of the Summer 2012 Olympics!

My daughter Katie celebrates the official cake of the Summer 2012 Olympics!

Does your family have a special Olympic memory? Tradition? Feel free to share your ideas and comments below… and enjoy the games!

 

 

 

 

REAL Sports Heroes

Sports wordle

By Karen Hendricks

Are you an avid sports fan? We all have our favorite teams, our favorite sports—NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS, college football, and the list goes on. I grew up just outside Philadelphia which means I will forever cheer for the Phillies and Eagles. It’s in my blood!

“Professional” Sports?

Over the past few years, like a lot of fans, I’ve become disillusioned by the off-field antics and more seriously, crimes, of professional athletes. Their skyrocketing salaries, crazed celebrity status, and unrealistic ticket prices have also affected me. I’m generalizing here, and of course there are exceptions. But very few wonderfully talented athletes seem to maintain “real” lifestyles including a healthy balance of family life. There are so very few real heroes.

Youth Sports Step Up to the Plate

But for about the past 10 years, all three of my children have been involved in sports activities. And there is no greater experience—for both the kids and us as parents. This is where my heart now lies; professional sports, step aside!

My children’s involvement with sports began with AYSO soccer, a wonderful program that teaches basic soccer skills and good sportsmanship. There are hundreds of AYSO programs in communities across the country—all run by volunteers, mostly parents like you and I. Soccer is an awesome sport that not only encourages physical fitness because it includes a good amount of running, but it also enforces the importance of teamwork.

Other sports my kids have enjoyed include:

  • Tennis – This is a great, life-long sport and included some of the best-mannered high school girls I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
  • Track — Similar to soccer, I believe all kids can benefit from the simple exercise of running. Although kids are competing as part of a team, there’s also the personally rewarding aspect of competition with yourself—to continually beat your personal records (PR’s).
  • T-Ball and Coach/Pitch Baseball

The vast majority of coaches, parents and teammates we’ve met through the years have been amazing, inspiring, supportive and positive people!

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My son Kyle has a beautiful stride on the track!

Take the Good with the Bad

We’ve had a few brushes with ugly situations along the way… parents getting out of control on opposing teams, parents at my son’s AYSO games using profanity, and situations involving my husband who is a referee—one of the most thankless jobs there is. Even going back to kindergarten, during the days of co-ed AYSO soccer, there was a boy who punched my daughter in the stomach because he couldn’t accept the fact that my daughter scored on him! This past year, we’ve had several situations with one of my daughter’s 14-year old teammates as well as the girl’s mother, acting out of jealousy over my daughter’s talents; the mom even resorted to sending me “hate mail.” Craziness! But put into perspective, they are all life lessons—chances for us as parents to model good character, take the high road, and lead our kids by example through difficult situations with real life lessons.

Sweet Victories

As a parent, there is no greater joy than seeing all the hard work and practice that your children pour into sports pay off when they achieve their goals on the soccer field, tennis court, track, etc. There are enormous mountains and valleys that we, as parents, see our children through. I have encouraged my kids to stick with sports during tough times when they’ve wanted to quit, and there have even been heart-breaking injuries that required physical therapy and time to mend. All of those struggles make the victories that follow, even sweeter. And by “victories,” I don’t necessarily mean “wins” in terms of the score. My husband and I simply try to encourage our kids to always do their best in all things—sports, school, and in situations requiring good character. Those are life’s real victories.

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My daughter Kelly, in action on the soccer field!

Now, on the rare occasion when I watch professional sports, the games seems empty and meaningless. Nothing keeps me on the edge of my seat more than watching my own children and their teammates compete, struggle, persevere and excel. Quite often, it brings tears of joy to my eyes! Which is why I feel as though our youth are the TRUE heroes within today’s sports community.

What are your children’s experiences with sports? How have sports benefited their character development? How do their sports experiences affect you as a parent? What do you think of professional sports? I’d love to hear your thoughts….

5K… Hurray!

5K

Running in a 5K is an awesome experience!

By Jen Ashenfelter

It’s really difficult to maintain healthy habits and an exercise program when there’s so much else to get done. Why is it that the first things we take out of our daily routine are the very things that keep us going? I’m guilty as charged.

I know I should get more exercise, but I don’t. I know I should drink more water, but I don’t. Carbs are bad, but just try to take away my bagel. I watch Biggest Loser. I see the Facebook posts and pictures from friends who are logging miles with Nike, checking in at the gym, eating vegan meals, participating in Tough Mudder events or biking a distance I wouldn’t dream of going without a car and scheduled rest stops, but I do nothing.

After a hectic week at work or a never-ending string of school events and evening activities for the boys, before you know it, I started substituting Coke Zero for my water and instead of taking 20-minute walks or jogs I began punching the snooze button for the same amount of time on my alarm.

In the long run, bad habits and the inability to put ourselves first catch up. Taking care of yourself and exercising doesn’t require hours at the gym. In fact, working out for a few minutes throughout the day is just as effective according to The Benefits of Physical Activity published by the Harvard School of Public Health. (Very helpful article!)

The lesson I learned? You don’t have to be a perfect runner. You don’t have to give up eating carbs. And you don’t necessarily have to go jogging at 4:30am—there’s something to be said for getting enough sleep—unless you want to do all those things. All you really need is motivation, the ability to start in small increments and build momentum, and the willingness to forgive yourself when the going gets rough so you can start again.

Getting into the 5K craze 

With all that said, my husband and I started walking early in the morning late in the summer. When cooler mornings moved in, we added jogging to our routine. So we set our sights on running a 5K together in late September. Setting a goal with a deadline is good motivation, but there’s a better chance of success with a solid plan. If you’re not a runner or have never participated in a 5K (3.1 miles), then you really should choose a Couch to 5K plan—there are a plethora of apps and you can usually find a class at the local Y or health club—which breaks training into a manageable daily schedule of walking, jogging, and cross-training options over four to eight weeks.

I have trained twice before as part of a program—the last one being with the Y running outside during February. (Nothing improves your run time at the end of eight weeks like shedding 20lbs of winter clothing!) In 20 – 60 minutes a day, you’ll be ready for the race.

It wasn’t easy training for the September race. Life got in the way, again, and our training was rather inconsistent…okay it was basically nonexistent, but that didn’t stop us. Knowing the race course was flat and being motivated to raise money for a planned veteran’s park, we showed up.

Three days before the race I jogged a hilly 1.7 miles in roughly 20 minutes. I’m not great at math, but to me, that calculated into a respectable finish time of less than 45 minutes. I was thinking about the picture I would post on Facebook!

Race day was beautiful—not too warm, not too cold. My new sneakers felt good. We walked, we stretched, and then we were off. I was off alright—off my rocker. During the first mile I couldn’t catch my breath. During the second mile, my bladder screamed at me. During the third mile, my head was pounding, my feet hurt and I almost quit…3 times. During that final stretch, however, I was breathing like a champ, I didn’t have to pee and my feet were light as feathers as I crossed the Veterans Park 5K finish line at 36:40. It felt great! I was ready for the next race…

On a runner's high at the finish of my fall race! And yes, I posted this on Facebook too!

On a runner’s high at the finish of my fall race! And yes, I posted this on Facebook too!

New habits die fast

With my goal of running a 5K for the first time in years accomplished, sadly, the high didn’t last long. This fall, exercise and “me time” were replaced with more hours at work and a busy family schedule. In a recent moment of mental disarray—okay, probably more like a hormonal imbalance with a lack of Starbucks and absence of downtime—I  realized it was time to take a step back and breathe deeply to regain some perspective and natural energy to keep moving forward.

A power walk or leisurely jog around the neighborhood and eating healthy really do make a difference! Since taking that step back and returning to a few minutes of fresh air and shocking the cardio system back to life, I feel more energized to tackle each day with less stress and a more positive outlook.

I’m motivated to keep exercising because it feels really good, the holiday party season is fast approaching, and I’m going to a family wedding in January where probably 99.9% of those under 30 are Cross Fit fabulous. Yeah, I’m really motivated to keep moving. But I’m not kidding myself. The first thing to go when the going gets tough will be exercising and eating well. No worries though, I’ll dust off my weights and running shoes to begin—again. Hey, the 5K season ramps up in March.

Do you exercise regularly or set aside time in your busy schedule just for yourself? What motivates you? Finish a race or reach a personal goal? Friend us on Facebook and share a photo of you doing something you enjoy just for yourself!

August Days (Daze)

By Karen Hendricks

hiking trail

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I feel summer slipping away… August always seems like a frenzied rush of activity–preparing for school days and yet desperately trying to  savor a few more sweet summer days, and stashing a few more precious memories away for safe-keeping. It’s a balancing act for sure!

Deep breath… It may be August, but it’s early August, and there’s still time to enjoy a getaway (or two)!

One of my favorite getaways is also one of the easiest to plan: Taking a family hike in a state park or forest. Even if the trail is only a short distance from your home, being in the woods is an adventure that takes you worlds away. Our family has picked up a few tips through the years, but feel free to comment and leave your own tips as well!

Hiking How-To:

  • Pick a destination with appeal. Choose a mountaintop, a waterfall, vista or other similar feature as a goal to reach. It makes the trip worthwhile on many levels!
  • Plan your route. Most parks have trail maps available on their websites, so you can “study” your route ahead of time, and tailor your total mileage to your family’s fitness or age-appropriate level. Or, seek the advice of a park ranger and ask for his/her recommendation for a trail your family can tackle.
  • Just like the Boy Scouts, be prepared. Bring a backpack stashed with a small first aid kit, bug spray, sunscreen, and snacks such as granola bars and/or apples. Either include water bottles in the backpack for everyone (although this could be heavy to start!) or bring a second soft cooler-type bag for the water.
  • Be observant. Encourage your children to keep their eyes open for natural wonders: types of trees, interesting spiders and other insects, animal tracks (or even animals!), flowers, etc. You literally never know what you’ll encounter around each curve in the trail.
  • Be healthy. Exercising is a great side benefit for everyone, and the fact that you’re exercising together as a family is even better! Wear a pedometer or track your distance using an app on your phone, for your total mileage.
  • Record a few memories. If you still have a hand free, bring a camera!

Most admission to state parks or recreation areas is free, so you’ll also be planning a daytrip that’s easy on the family budget… another worthwhile benefit.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor: The colorful building in the center is the Baltimore Aquarium--an amazing place my family has loved visiting!

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor: The colorful building in the center is the Baltimore Aquarium–an amazing place my family has loved visiting! Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Summer (Brain) Storms

Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about day trips, and how much our family enjoys heading to our nation’s capital for getaways. (Click here for Daytrip: Washington, D.C.) I opened the discussion up on Facebook and asked friends to share their favorite daytrip destinations. Wow, did they respond with some fabulous ideas! Check out the results of their brainstorming:

  • Inner Harbor, Baltimore (Thanks, Julie!) and another friend suggested dinner at Baltimore’s City Cafe, followed by a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert (Thanks, Judy!)
  • “Lititz, PA is fun, especially Wilbur Chocolate Factory” (Thanks, Wendy!)
  • Strasburg Railroad, in Lancaster County (Thanks, Paulette!)
  • “I personally always loved going to the Catoctin Zoo (Thurmont, MD). Even after my oldest outgrew it and my youngest is on his way, I still love going. It is a wonderful, tranquil park-like environment with hands-on feeding opportunities. The saddest day was when “Griz” the grizzly bear passed away. I felt like I lost a good friend that day. Highly recommend!” (Check out local zoos and wildlife refuges in your area–Thanks, Jen!)
  • “For an indoor break when it’s rainy or just way too hot we go to the Summer Kids Free movies at the local theaters or use coupons for free bowling through KidsBowlFree.com.” (Thanks, Melaney!)
  • “When it’s nice out we have been visiting different local parks and recreation areas using the “Roads To Freedom” program through the Adams County Library and the “Go Outdoors York” program through the York County Library. Their programs are like letterboxing where they give clues at a park to send you on a walk to find the pencil rubbing posts.” (Check your local libraries for similar summer programs and thanks to Melaney for this idea also!)
  • Another friend suggested area parks, especially ones with lakes for swimming and/or boat rentals. (Thanks, Christina!)
  • I will add one more… check out area sporting events. They will nurture your children’s love of the game, whether it’s baseball or soccer, or anything in between. Tickets to MLB games are often offered in family-friendly packages, or head to a minor league ballpark where tickets are even more affordable and include fun “extras” such as fireworks or t-shirts. Soccer games are also a lot of fun, whether at the MLS or USL level. Or take a drive to visit an NFL training camp. Or forget watching sports, and participate by enjoying a round of miniature golfing!

Take time to enjoy these fleeting summer days of August… and as always, feel free to share your ideas and thoughts. What are your traditions for these August days? Do you feel in a daze, wondering where summer went? Share your strategies for savoring every last drop of the summer, below. 🙂

For even more inspiration, check out some of our previous, related posts:

The Importance of Girlfriend Getaways

Vacation: Same Time, Same Place–Next Year!

Up for Family Adventure? Try Biking on a Rail Trail

Karate is More Than Self Defensive

Nick received his First Degree Black Belt last spring.

Nick received his First Degree Black Belt last spring.

By Jen Ashenfelter

Karate may not be the right sport for every child but it was the perfect activity for my oldest son. Now training for his second degree Black Belt, this story began 7 years ago at Action Karate in New Britain, PA.

Nick had played intramural soccer and t-ball but didn’t really enjoy either. As an active young boy, he had plenty of skill in running, kicking and throwing, but team sports did not appeal to him. Even today, he’s not the least bit interested in watching sports on television or attending a sporting event.

In third grade, Nick was a smart, well-behaved student. However, focus in the classroom was a challenge, as was socializing with the other kids. He was never diagnosed with autism; he just had a different idea of how he wanted to spend the day.

When a winter after-school club program offered karate lessons, Nick expressed an interest so I jumped at the chance to sign him up. He really enjoyed going to classes twice a week and in less than two months, he was officially a martial arts student learning much more than just Kenpo karate.

The curriculum at the Action Karate schools centers on teaching students focus and control, discipline, self-confidence, goal setting, self-defense and leadership with an emphasis on good grades, good deeds and respect in a supportive atmosphere.

Involvement with martial arts is not just an activity; it’s a lifestyle, a way of thinking. Nick embraced the journey with commitment and has worked through expectations and challenges with complete determination, grace, and even a little prodding. The program helped Nick develop better focus in the classroom and hopefully has given him the confidence and resources to handle the pressures he’ll likely face during his teen and young adult years. Oh, and then there’s that Chuck Norris thing—no doubt he can defend himself with swift moves to serve up a serious punishment to the offender. Go ahead and give him a surprise bear hug from behind and see where you land.

In the process, I’ve learned more about managing expectations and reaching goals. As we encourage, and sometimes push, our children to do better, it’s difficult not to be inspired by their determination and achievements. How can I put expectations on my children for their best effort if I don’t expect the same from myself? Learning is a two-way street: our children learn from us and often what they give back is greater.

Three years into the program, Nick received his Junior Black Belt during an action-packed and moving ceremony. My eyes filled with tears of pride at his accomplishments. And three years later, he was awarded his First Degree Black Belt. It was a six-year journey of growth, learning and facing challenges for a lifetime of skills and tools to accomplish anything he puts his mind to.

Nothing puts a smile to my face faster and brings back sweet memories than watching a class of younger students and then watching Nick’s masters class to realize how far we’ve come. My wish for the parents of the new students: the same awesome feelings seven years from now.

It doesn’t matter what sport or activity your son or daughter participates in just as long as they are having fun and learning valuable life skills. Whether it’s karate or baseball or playing an instrument, encourage them to find a passion, stick with it during challenging times and celebrate the accomplishments great and small.

Has your child’s life been transformed through the study of karate? Feel free to share your stories and/or advice, by clicking “leave a comment” below:

March Madness!

March Madness - Let the Games Begin!

March Madness – Let the Games Begin!

By Ruth Topper

Do things get a little wild and crazy around your house in March?  If so, maybe you have a little March Madness going on!  You may be wondering (if you aren’t a big sports/basketball fan)… What is March Madness anyway?

Here they are - filling out their "Brackets"

Here they are – filling out their “Brackets”

Well, it is basically a tournament of the best college basketball teams across the country.  Prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament (also known as “March Madness”), each conference has its own tournament or conference champion who advances to the NCAA Tournament.  The teams who end up in the tournament are a mixture of conference champions, automatic bids and at large bids.  The colleges represented range from big names like Duke, Michigan and Michigan State, Notre Dame, North Carolina and North Carolina State, etc. to lesser known schools like Bucknell, Valparaiso, Gonzaga and Butler.  All I know is that excitement hit my household this past Sunday, March 17 when the sixty-eight teams going to the tournament were announced!   As soon as these teams are decided upon, basketball fans across the country go crazy!  They run to print off a “Bracket.”   This “Bracket” lists all the teams that made it to the tournament and who they are playing in the opening game.

Now the fun begins!  Basketball fans begin to do “research” on the teams to try & figure out who will win each game and move on in the tournament.  The idea is to narrow your “picks” down to the “Sweet 16”, “Elite 8”, “Final 4” and of course choose the two teams that will eventually play in the Championship Game.  These fans take this job very seriously.  Pools spring up in the workplace and lots of water cooler and dinner time discussion takes place as everyone considers the various teams, players, coaches, etc.  The joke in our family is that I can fill out the bracket knowing very little about any of the basketball teams and do as well in selecting teams that will win as they do after researching and agonizing over which ones to pick in every game.  The goal is to have the “Bracket” filled out by Thursday, March 21.

The kids fill out multiple "Brackets".  This is a "fun" one - meaning their favorite teams are winning!

The kids fill out multiple “Brackets”. This is a “fun” one – meaning their favorite teams are winning!

Rachel - showing off her brand new "Butler" t-shirt!

Rachel – showing off her brand new “Butler” t-shirt!

On Thursday, March 21 sixty-eight teams will have begun play.  After just a few hours of basketball play I start hearing moans and groans as teams lose and are out of the tournament or shouts of joy that a particular team is moving on!    The “Bracket” doesn’t stray far from the owner!  A highlighter will come out and if a team wins – they get highlighted.  (This is very exciting!)  If a team loses – they get a big X over them.  It’s really bad when a team loses in a very early round when that team was predicted to go to the Elite 8, Final 4 or heaven forbid – into the Championship game!  This could mean weeping & wailing – depending on the age of the fan!  (Yes, grown men have been known to cry – but not my husband!) This first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is the highlight of a basketball fan’s year!  Multiple games are being played at the same time on several channels, exciting highlights of games will be telecast from station to station and these sixty-eight teams will be narrowed down to sixteen teams by the end of play on the first Sunday of the Tournament.

The following Thursday, March 28, these sixteen teams start play again.  By Sunday evening the sixteen teams will be narrowed down to just 4 teams (“The Final 4”).  On Saturday, April 6 the Final 4 teams face each other and we will be down to the two teams who will play in the Championship Game on Monday, April 8.  The winner of this game will hold the Championship Title for the next year!

Seth dunking the ball!

Seth dunking the ball!

Why do I share all of this with you? Well…basketball has become a favorite sport in my house.  All three of my kids (including my daughter, Rachel, who has a thing for Butler – not sure why) & my husband love watching basketball and shooting hoops (or ballin’) either outside in the driveway or with the mini hoop in our basement.  They love to talk about their favorite teams, the players, their “moves,” the “ref” calls and speculate who will come out on top of each game.   Frankly it is the only topic of conversation going on  right now in my house!

So…..what does March Madness mean to you?  Who is your favorite team?  Who are you picking to win the Championship Game? My pick is…

The Florida Gators winning over Gonzaga in the Championship. You heard it here first!