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April 8, 2014

Little Maroon Nation

Sports teams should engender communal spirit, not dismissal.

Let me tell you about my cRuNk spring break: It was an easy, breezy 40 degrees, with just a few days of snowfall. The sun made a quick appearance for a couple of days, and I even got to be super stylin’ in my dad’s clothes since I’d only packed shorts and flip flops for my trip home. My friends were already back in school, so I was able to spend every waking hour with my dog! My nice professor also made sure we continued to receive a top-notch education by giving me readings and a paper to write over the break.

I woke up to Facebook pictures of Miami and Cancun and Hawaii every single day. I opened Snapchats from friends who decided it’d be cool to send views of 85-degree weather to me. Someone actually sent me a postcard via snail mail from Greece. It smelled like heaven.

That being said, I still had a better spring break than you did.

Whether you went to Miami, Cancun, Hawaii, or all three—it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because you weren’t in Lexington, Kentucky during March Madness. It doesn’t matter because you weren’t at the heart of University of Kentucky basketball. It doesn’t matter because you didn’t experience State Street on the night that we destroyed Louisville (again) in the Sweet 16, or the night that Aaron Harrison stole my heart all the way to the Final Four. It doesn’t matter because no Ultra music festival shindig (Who actually likes that stuff?!) and no goddess-level tan could possibly beat what it feels like to scream the C-A-T-S chant with 50,000 of your closest friends.

In Kentucky, basketball is more than just a sport—it is a culture, a family, a tradition, a way of life. In school, classes are interrupted or straight-up canceled so that students can watch UK games instead. Downtown, couches in the street are set up and ready to go well before any inevitable Kentucky win. If it’s game day, everyone dresses in blue and white, no excuses. If it’s not game day, everyone does so anyway.

There’s no fan base like the Kentucky fan base. Maybe it’s because Lexington’s big-town-small-city feel keeps us excited and thriving, but grounded and together. Maybe it’s because Kentucky doesn’t have  too much else to offer for its claim to fame (bourbon? horses? KFC?). Maybe it’s because we have eight national championships, have had players like John Wall, Kenny Walker, and Anthony Davis, and bow down to the power of Coach Calipari’s recruiting abilities. It’s probably all of these things and the fact that we’re just the best.

Clearly, I don’t expect that this level of hype could be recreated with UChicago athletics. However, it’s worth noting that the complaint that our athletic culture is negligible is pretty prevalent. The (extremely) tiresome jokes along the lines of, “We have a football team?” are not only painfully unfunny, but sad. “Bonding” over our lack of sports knowledge or, really, lack of interest, only goes so far—and by that, I mean it’ll get you a few resigned “likes” on Facebook. Actual school spirit, on the other hand, is significantly more rewarding than many students give it credit for.

I got to run through mile-long human tunnels at one in the morning. I got to stand on rooftops and sing songs with my fellow Cats fans. I got to set couches on fire and set fireworks off of couches. I got to take pictures with riot police and Three Goggle so hard that my hand started cramping. I got to cheer on my team with the rest of my entire state (except Louisville, because they don’t exist). I got to do all of this because a simple sport brought hundreds of thousands of strangers together. I got to do all of this because we let ourselves get caught up in the excitement and the cheesy cheers and the insane celebratory measures.

Sure, UChicago athletics may not be  of the same caliber as Kentucky basketball, but there’s something to be learned from UK’s school spirit. Even after Monday’s heartbreaking loss in the championship, thousands paraded around in the streets and celebrated a team we love and support, ring or no ring. It’s a shame that I had to wait until break to experience this type of spirit, excitement, and solidarity, but it’s a bigger shame that (basically) nobody at UChicago can.

I’m not calling for burning couches and rooftop karaoke—just a couple populated tailgates and some pride for the place we now call home. Should the urge to burn couches and set fireworks out of a car ever arise, however, you know where I’ll be for next year’s March Madness. After all, who needs a beach when you can have the entire Big Blue Nation?

Jenny Lee is a second-year in the College majoring in political science.

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