Bookstore Basketball brings back high school glory days
By KATHLEEN O'BRIEN
Senior Staff Writer
Crowds full of friends cheering you on. Mental pictures of a triumphant finale. Dreams dashed in defeat. Fantasies fulfilled with a run of victories.
Bookstore Basketball is like high school all over again.
Most of us at Notre Dame, an athletics-obsessed school by any measure, played high school sports. Most of us, save the few lucky and talented enough to play for a varsity team at Notre Dame, left our athletics careers behind after high school graduation.
Bookstore offers the chance to return to the days when we lived for the competition. While there are teams out just to have a good time, there are also the legit ballers, the ones who starred on their varsity squads in high school, who turned down offers to play basketball for Division II and III programs to come to Notre Dame.
For the true hoops junkies, Bookstore is serious business. They formed their teams months in advance. They played pickup games at Rolfs on a daily basis. Some even scaled back their drinking as the competition picked up.
The players on the best teams wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than a championship.
Unfortunately, only one team can win, which meant a lot of people would be going home disappointed. Especially this year, since 14 of the 30 players on the top six teams were seniors, and none had ever won a Bookstore title before.
Some had come achingly close to a championship — B.J. Kloska and Todd Titus of NDToday.com went to the championship game a year ago, and John Hiltz, Jason Childress, Joe Lillis and Chris Dillon of Versatility advanced to the finals in 1999. But coming so close and losing can be even worse than knowing you never had a chance.
Other players had been coming to watch Bookstore for years and dreaming of someday winning it all, like Five Reasons Your Girl Left You's Pete Ryan and Majestics' Corey Hartmann, both seniors. As Hartmann's Bookstore run came to an end, the disappointment hit hard. Hartmann turned to look up at the Dome just before his team lost, trying to take in his last moments playing on the courts he grew up on.
I know my biggest disappointment in high school was never qualifying for state in track. I ran all winter long as a senior, stubbornly going out in six inches of snow and below-zero wind chills, determined to improve. I slashed my times, but injured my IT band just before districts and only completed my 3,000-meter race thanks to a handful of Aleve popped before stepping out on the track.
I was inconsolable after I failed to make it to state. Even now, four years later, just the thought of my big flop stirs up bad memories.
A lot of us have similar stories of our disappointing moments in sports — losing in the state playoffs, failing to make all-conference, not winning the district title.
The players competing for Bookstore titles, in both the coed and the women's tourneys, have a chance to replace some of those less-than-sweet memories, if they can only capture that elusive championship.
They'll do anything to win. Play through black eyes like Project Mayhem's Jason Mayes or on a sprained ankle like Kloska.
Then there are the lucky people who won state back in high school, maybe even multiple times. Or they broke the school record for points scored or yards carried or home runs hit. They're out at Bookstore trying to recreate the ecstatic feeling that they experienced back in high school, the pride they felt after reaching a lofty goal. Winning Bookstore would evoke that same sentiment that's been missing the last couple years.
The lucky few, the ones who played for the Nylon Strokers or Slappy's All-Stars, get to end their tournament in celebration.
Completing the parallel are the spectators.
While cheering on Irish sports teams is a great tradition, there's a distance between the fans and the athletes. Most of us don't know Ruth Riley, Troy Murphy and Arnaz Battle all personally, as much as we like to see them win. And ushers and assigned seats keep the cheering somewhat under control, limiting the yells that reach the players' ears.
At Bookstore, every taunt and heckle, every call of encouragement makes it onto the court. Plus, the crowds take the wins and losses personally — these are the fans' roommates, best friends, boyfriends and classmates going head-to-head.
Just like in high school, when your boyfriend came to all your volleyball games no matter how boring he thought the games were, and your closest friends never missed a soccer game even if it was pouring down rain, Bookstore brings people out en masse to cheer for their friends.
Like in high school, we don't all get to end our careers in a blaze of glory. But the possibility of victory makes it worth risking the sting of defeat.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necesarily those of The Observer.
All Sports Stories for Monday, April 30, 2001