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March Madness Memories

March Madness may not have ended how we wanted it to this year, but it’s still one of my family’s favorite times.

Rock Chalk” is a well-known phrase in our house if that gives you an idea of what we were hoping for. Although our Kansas Jayhawks are not March Madness champions (they at least can claim this title for the Big 12), they still helped us create some amazing memories, carry on traditions, AND improved my son’s speech (I’ll explain).

toddler hugs a jayhawker mascot

Growing up, my dad worked at University of Vermont basketball and hockey games as a ticket taker. From a young age, I attended basketball games with him. My love for the Catamounts ran strong; there was pretty much nothing cooler than going to a game with my dad. All of the ticket takers were allowed in Patrick Gym early and watched the players warm up before doors opened. Every once in a while, a ball bounced off from the court and I got to throw it back. Mind blown. So cool. Oh, to be seven again. Once the basketball game started, I think my dad lost all of his paycheck and then some to snacks or a trip to Al’s after the game, but he never complained. UVM’s chance at March Madness and their 2005 Cinderella story win over Syracuse still stands out vividly in my mind. As does the year before when my friend and I were at Patrick Gym to watch the Catamounts, Coppenrath and Sorrentine at the helm, trounce Maine to win the America East finals.

My husband grew up in a Jayhawk family. Both of my in-laws attended the University of Kansas and my husband was there for a year before coming home to Vermont as his dad worked at UVM. He was at KU for their 2008 March Madness victory. I remember talking to him on the phone that night. Such joy and excitement. I experienced Allen Fieldhouse during a trip to Lawrence in 2009. Although I was not a diehard Kansas fan before meeting my husband, I found them a very easy team to love. I also knew there was little chance of our relationship lasting if I supported the Tar Heels (kidding, I think).

Our love of sports has been passed on to our son.

We don’t do a lot of screen time in our house. For the first two years of his life, I don’t think our son really had any. Jayhawk basketball was the one exception. Watching basketball games has always been a family affair. In our condo, the basement was usually full for every game. 

ollie enjoying his first taste of march madness cheering on the jayhawks

Here’s our son viewing his first game. He’s staring right past me and the camera as the new parent in me panicked he was getting screen time ahead of the APA’s recommended age. 

I recently heard commentary on VPR that actually addressed the positive outcomes of a family watching the same thing together, sports or show, anything that provides a, “Common point of reference.” The thought is that you are bonding and also able to address anything questionable your child may see.  If everyone is always watching their own show on their own device, there is little sense of connection and community and you’re not there as a parent to censor or explain confusing situations or language. Some of the commercials during college basketball are beyond what we’d like our son to see, namely more violent movie commercials. We’re able to turn the TV off, quickly direct his attention elsewhere, or comment about how, “That didn’t seem like a nice thing to do” if we weren’t able to otherwise censor it in time. 

I absolutely love the tradition of a big group gathering to watch a March Madness game.

We prepare delicious snacks, all of which are allergen-free and safe for my son, and just relax. For me, I think sports are a really nice break from reality. For the course of any game, you can just sit together and watch. I won’t say there’s no stress, because it’s not out of the question for someone to leave the room if the game isn’t going well, but it’s a different kind of stress. I also try to stop doing everything else and literally just be there with my family. At two and a half, it’s rare my son makes it through a full game. We’ve crafted some impressive MagnaTile vehicles and train tracks while rooting on the Jayhawks. We’re all there, in the same room, not trying to do twelve other life tasks at the same time.

We also started some new traditions this year. For a few games, we decided not to have anyone over to watch with us.

At times, I felt guilty not hosting or inviting, but it was an incredible break for our family. It actually lead me to instill a, “Stay home and do nothing” rule for just the three of us on more weekends in general. Life is always go-go-go. Get up in the morning and rush to get out the door on time. Get home and race the clock to get dinner on the table. I’m trying to learn how to stop this race. Kansas games were one way we did that this year. The three of us cuddled up on the couch and watched until bedtime. For a few earlier games, we made a special dinner and ate in the living room. As a food allergy parent, witnessing my son eat a homemade (dairy free) pizza while watching a sporting event nearly brought tears to my eyes. I love when he is able to do something as simple and normal as a family pizza night in a safe way.eating pizza during march madness

This year, it is apparent just how much my son loves our basketball game days as well.

How many toddlers do you know that pretend to be Kansas Jayhawk basketball players? We don’t play cops and robbers. We play “Svi” and “Devonte.” The game is typically an intricate basketball setup that involves an oversized pillow ball, “sock skating” on the wood floor, and a Pottery Barn anywhere chair as the hoop. We’ll line up the scouts soon! In any case, it’s a really fun, physical activity we do together just about every night.

Remember how I mentioned the Jayhawks improved my son’s speech? Well, one of the starters for Kansas was Ukrainian guard, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. If you need to know how to pronounce that name, just ask my toddler. At a recent doctor appointment, he went over the lineup with his pediatrician and let the doctor know he plans to be, “As tall as Azubuike” someday. The worrier in me sometimes wonders if we’ve gone too far. Then I always remember we in no way forced this. He learned the names thanks to the question stage where, “Who that is?” “What this is?” and “Why?” were on constant repeat.

All in all, March Madness and college basketball bring our family together.

It’s a tradition my husband and I each remember from our youth that has been a lot of fun to pass on to our son. It’s a chance to relax, escape everything, and apparently also improve speech and physical activity. That’s an all-around win in my playbook. 

Do you have any favorite family sports traditions? Other ways you unwind and relax together? I’d love to hear!

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