We are a divided state. Throughout my life, but really, throughout our history, we’ve watched the deterioration of community in favor of the self, the common good in favor of the individual. It’s often said that tragedy brings people together, and to a point, that’s true — we saw how Americans unified following the September 11 attacks — but now it seems that even tragedies are split along passionate, bitter lines.
The COVID-19 pandemic could have been a unifying force against a common, microscopic foe, but almost instantly, it was side-tracked by the same political barking that has ruined everything else. Within the first week of The New Normal, opinions about Gov. Andy Beshear ranged from heartthrob to Hitler, with the loons on both sides digging in for the long haul. Thankfully for our governor, I have a full-proof solution to finding common ground in the Commonwealth.
State law should require all schools to show the NCAA Tournament. Without revisiting my words from last week, some of my fondest memories of childhood are on the opening Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament. Either in the classroom or cafeteria, an angel sent from Heaven disguised as a teacher would roll in the famous TV cart, plug it in, and the rest of the day would consist of learning and basketball — perhaps the two most important things humanity has discovered thus far.
As I asked my own students earlier this week, this practice seems to be fading. Troubled, I reached out to other teachers I know and received the same feedback. It appears that in elementary school, the games are sometimes shown, but as the academic journey continues, the games begin to go.
And I get it. Teachers at all levels are under immense pressure and scrutiny (in large part thanks to those loons I mentioned in the introductory paragraph). They’re already asked to do too much for too many people in too little time. I know this firsthand. But I also know that students are more than a test score, that school is more than a building, and that the most memorable moments from my own educational experience often had little to do with what was typed in a textbook.
I vividly remember tracking the Cats’ 1998 championship run in my second-grade class. I remember middle school lunch tables littered with brackets as my friends and I fiercely debated each matchup. I remember my professor preemptively canceling an 8:30 a.m. class the morning after Kentucky cut down the nets in 2012.
We have to give that to the current generation. In the same way that it’s my job to preserve the structure of English grammar and syntax, or to ensure that the humanity and wonder of timeless literature remains timeless, it’s all of our job to do what’s best for our children and for our state. In a world where Joe Rogan is a political figure, we absolutely have to find common ground and an escape from the insanity.
There isn’t a better, more unifying way to do so than to share these two days as a state. Kentucky is known for bourbon, horses, and basketball. Any introduction of the first two into a fifth-grade classroom in Paducah would make national news, so we need to celebrate the one aspect of our state and our culture that is truly for everyone. We are a basketball state. It isn’t even about the Cats or the Cards. Kentucky doesn’t play until 6 p.m. tonight, and Louisville’s NCAA Tournament opener is sometime in 2024.
It’s about the barrage of games on what always become the most exciting two sports days of the year. It’s about the electricity of seeing that score in the top left corner of the screen that tells you a 15-seed is up by a point with 12 minutes remaining. It’s about the spring air flowing into an open classroom window as we, just for a moment, remind ourselves and our young people that there are things more important than English class or tax rates. Things that bring us together. Things that make us Kentuckians.