And the Winners of the 2018 NCAA Tournament are…

By: Kimberly Galitz

I know what you’re thinking – the championship game was a week ago, it’s over, what in the world is this about? Well just stick with me, it’ll be worth it.

We all know the roller coaster of emotions that is March Madness, for the players and the fans alike. The media even does a stellar job of focusing on the tears streaming down faces of the players and the children fans of the fallen teams. It’s heart-wrenching, and really shows the raw emotion, hope, and passion that goes into the game.

Then we come across the moments of tears, which are not caused by losing a game, but instead by the most touching acts.  You see true sportsmanship, respect, and friendship, and that tugs on the heartstrings more than any buzzer beater loss will.  The pain of the loss – that’ll fade, but the warmth of a genuine moment will blanket you forever.

After losing one of their main players to a fractured elbow in the first round of the tournament, the Purdue Boilermakers faced a tough road in the tournament. Criticism is never minimal for them; announcers seem to ALWAYS have their bias against them, “loyal” fans are quick to blame the coach for anything, and they just end up being the team that gets glossed over.

The Boilermakers made it to the Sweet Sixteen, where they faced a tough Texas Tech team. Unfortunately, the Boilermakers came up short, losing 78-65 and bringing their record-breaking season to an abrupt end. But this won’t be the moment of the season that we remember; at least, it won’t be for me.

What I will remember is the extreme level of sportsmanship and the class-act moment we saw from Senior Vince Edwards after the game, when he went into the Texas Tech locker room to congratulate the players that just knocked his team out of the tournament. If that doesn’t show true sportsmanship and class, then I don’t know what does. You even see one of the coaches giving him the side-eye of disbelief. Maybe he’s in shock because it’s hard to believe that anyone would want to personally show respect for a group of players that just beat their team. We could all take a page from Vinnie’s book.

Before the 2018 tournament even started, Purdue, like many other schools, hosted their senior night. Another class act, Senior Isaac Haas (the player that was injured in the opening round of the NCAA tournament), broke down thanking fans for supporting his sister.

Watching his story should remind us all that it isn’t about the score of the game at the end of the day. The missed layup, missed free throw, that fifth foul, these are not the things matter. Supporting each other, being a kind and empathetic human, these are the things you will take with you through life and that will pay off.  Let’s take a page from Isaac’s book too; we’ll start a collection.

Then there are the Loyola Chicago Ramblers, the “Cinderella” team of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

This is a team that had been absent from the tournament for 33 YEARS. Nobody can argue with the fact that these guys played with a level of passion and heart that warmed the nation.  The smiles that showed on the players’ faces during every game, even when they were behind, had me on the edge of my seat cheering for them to move on to another round. Their calming presence, Sister Jean, became a nationwide icon.

At the end of each game, all the players would immediately run over and give a nice, sweaty hug to Sister Jean, a level of respect I’d love to see on all teams. Playing with heart took on a whole new meaning this year after watching this team make it not only to the tournament for the first time in three decades, but making it all the way to the Final Four. The last time the team was in the tournament they broke down walls of racial barriers, and 33 years later they were back winning over the hearts of the nation again. Let’s not forget the strides they made in 1963 and let’s not forget what they did in 2018.  Onward and upward, Ramblers. Thanks for reminding us of some important lessons.

While there are many other instances of class acts and kindness throughout the NCAA tournament, I focused on the two teams that are near and dear to my heart. I’m not purposely excluding other examples as I know there are many, but I felt that focusing on a few was important. We often focus on the numbers, the score, the “winner” that is defined at the end of a long road in March. I think that’s all well and good but means we accidentally lose sight of some real winners of the tournament: the ones that change us on the inside.

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