The month of March has come roaring in like a lion - and I'm not referring to this week's erratic swings between spring and winter weather.
I'm thinking about sports. And I'm not alone. Next weekend is Selection Sunday for the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, which means a good chunk of the American population is about to get a major case of bracketology fever. Though in Illinois folks might be less concerned about their brackets and more worried about our area's b-ball brain drain.
Normally I stick to professional play. I love the Chicago Bulls - who by the way are facing their own form of March Madness, thanks to this year's truncated NBA season. That means good times for fans, who in a very short span of days can watch them play a number of their toughest competitors on home court.
But I re-thought my sports bias after attending my first Chicago Wolves game last weekend. The Wolves are a minor league team in the American Hockey League. Their motto is "it's more than a game," and I gotta say, at first it felt like most folks were there for the "more" and not for the "game"!
The players are literally in transition, hoping to be called up to play in the big time with their NHL parent team (the Wolves "feed" players back and forth to the Vancouver Canucks, an increasingly strong rival of the Blackhawks).
Meanwhile, fans face an onslaught of entertainments, from projectile T-shirts to sing-and-dance-along songs. There was also a low-flying blimp, which seemed to promise a "cookie drop" but never actually delivered.
Now none of this is very different - deliberately so - from major league games and their off-ice (i.e. commercial break) shenanigans. Some of it is even better. The women who sweep up the Wolves ice between play actually get to wear clothes, unlike the Hooters waitress look-a-likes who make up the Blackhawks Ice Crew or the skit-and-dance routine driven Chicago Luvabulls.
And a family outing to see the Wolves is a reasonably priced and in many ways more accessible alternative to a Bulls or 'Hawks game. You can likely find good seats just prior to puck drop. The arena is an equal-opportunity space: Mom and Dad can grab a beer, teens can cruise one another in their new hockey jerseys. Yes, the air is heavy on cheesy commercialism. But team pride - or at least a general good will - is also at work. The night I attended, a color guard helped salute team captain Nolan Baumgartner, who had recently racked up his 1,000th professional game.
All of which confirms an argument I've often laid on my non-sports-loving friends - there really is more to the game (as good as that can be). There's history, culture, community - and passion! Take March Madness - the popular name for the NCAA tourney. It was originally coined here, by native son H. V. Porter, in honor of high school basketball. Porter was so inspired he wrote a poetic salute to the young b-ballers, Basketball Ides of March. Sample stanza: A sharp-shooting mite is king tonight/The Madness of March is running/The winged feet fly, the ball sails high/And field goal hunters are gunning.
This weekend, we recommend you put down the remote, step away from the college ball, and support local high school hardwood talents vying to compete in next weekend's State Final Tournament. Listen in to hear about some game options, including a hot match involving Derrick Rose's alma mater. That and the rest of our picks are below - enjoy!
Friday 7:30 p.m.
High school March Madness hits courts across the city and the state.
Friday 8 p.m.
A night of literary hijinks, including DJs, puppets, dancing and some readings, all of it to benefit Young Chicago Authors.
2424 N. Lincoln Ave.
Friday 9 p.m.
306 N. Halsted
Friday 10 p.m.
Celebrate the release of local band Baby Teeth’s latest album, White Tonight.
3159 N. Southport
Saturday 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Oak Park performance poet Charlie Rossiter will perform along with three of his talented poet friends, including a rare appearance by Maria Maziotti Gillan.
834 Lake Street, Oak Park, Ill.
Sunday 3 p.m.
A meet-and-greet with Colt Cabana, Cliff Compton and Luke Gallows as they wrap up the final day of shooting on their documentary Wrestling Road Diaries 2 - and record the latest episode of their Art of Wrestling podcast.
1845 N. Western Ave.
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