NCAA Tournament Games Carry On Amid War
On each of the courts at the NCAA tournament, large decals of a red, white and blue ribbon were laid down on the hardwood.
Off the court Thursday, fans gathered in arena concourses at halftime to watch war updates on television, then returned to their seats for the second half.
``Everybody’s interested, but life has to go on,″ said Phil Wroblewski, a fan from Erie, Pa., who attended the Marquette-Holy Cross game in Indianapolis on Thursday.
On the second day of a U.S.-led war against Iraq, games went on around the country _ in the first round of the NCAA tournament, major league baseball’s spring training and other sports. But the fighting weighed heavily on the minds of coaches, players and their fans.
Utah coach Rick Majerus said the NCAA tournament should be called off while the war is going on.
``Personally, I wouldn’t play, but it’s not my decision,″ Majerus said as his team prepared for Friday’s first-round game against Oregon in Nashville, Tenn. ``My father served in Okinawa. My uncle died in Normandy. If we have a ground assault, we ought to call it off out of respect for what is happening.″
Others spoke of keeping the importance of the tournament in perspective when U.S. troops were putting themselves in harm’s way.
``This is a game. We’re fighting to win a game; they’re fighting for their lives and our lives,″ said Auburn coach Cliff Ellis, whose team plays St. Joseph’s in Tampa, Fla., on Friday. ``Anyone out there who doesn’t have that in mind doesn’t have it in perspective.″
Manhattan’s Justin Jackette said the war quickly reminded him about priorities.
``A lot of people sometimes compare playing out on the basketball court to a war. Then you suddenly realize it’s a bad comparison,″ he said. ``There are some kids overseas who are younger than us. It’s not a game over there. They are risking their lives to protect our freedom.″
Because of continuous coverage of the war, CBS shifted its first NCAA tournament games to ESPN on Thursday; coverage returned to CBS for the night games.
Security also was increased at arenas all over the country. Every person at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, for example, was checked with a detection wand. Similar security checks were followed at other sports venues.
``I feel safe,″ said Todd Martin, competing at the Nasdaq-100 tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, Fla. ``I feel like our country has done what they have been able to prepare for whatever might come next _ if anything does come next on our soil.″
At Spokane Arena, many fans drove past a handful of protesters holding a black sheet with a peace sign. Doug DeFries drove from Layton, Utah, to follow Weber State. ``We shouldn’t let Saddam change our lives,″ DeFries said.
IUPUI’s Matt Crenshaw served in the Navy before college, and he knows several Marines who are currently in Kuwait. Several teammates broke down in tears when Crenshaw told them about a friend who was killed on Sept. 11.
``I was just a little nervous leading up to President Bush’s 48-hour (deadline), and I got some e-mails from my friends,″ Crenshaw said. ``They told me just to stay focused, go out and play. Just have a good time, like I would if the situation wasn’t going on ... You really can’t focus in on basketball too much. Just trying to see what’s going on in the world and pray for my friends and family.″
In other sports:
As Tiger Woods approached the 18th green at the Bay Hill Invitational, a young girl ran out to the fairway and handed him a small U.S. flag. In previous years, the girl has given Woods flowers.
``She’s just a little sweetheart,″ Woods said.
Walking off the third tee in the first round of the Safeway Ping LPGA tournament, Australian Karrie Webb’s thoughts strayed from her game to the war.
``I’m thinking, here we are on a beautiful day doing a job we love to do, and you can’t even imagine what is going on the other side of the world,″ she said. ``But these people are evil, and evil has to be stopped.″
After pitching five strong innings in a 5-3 win over Detroit, Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez talked about how insignificant baseball seems with a war being waged.
``This country, when you look at yourself and think what they have to go through to protect us, it really seems like we’re not doing anything,″ he said. ``It just seems like we’re spoiled little brats.″
He also said baseball made the right call to keep playing spring training games.
``I don’t know, really, but if you quit on things like that right now, you’re giving up on your people,″ he said. ``We have to show them that we’re not scared. We’re going to hopefully take the stress that those people get from watching TV and those reports and give them a good baseball game and something to look at.″
A moment of silence was held before an exhibition game between the Atlanta Braves and the Montreal Expos in Kissimmee, Fla. A brief fireworks display followed the Canadian and U.S. national anthems.
Detroit Pistons star Richard Hamilton echoed Martinez’s sentiment, expressing hope that games might give provide a welcome respite from the tense developments in Iraq.
``It’s weird, but we’re giving fans and people around the world a source of entertainment,″ Hamilton said before the Pistons’ game against Philadelphia in Detroit. ``If we can take people’s minds off of the very important things going on for a couple of hours, I think that helps everybody.″
The 76ers’ Eric Snow added: ``People need to pray for the soldiers and their families, but they need to have fun, too.″
Before the Spurs-Mavericks game in Dallas, Mavs owner Mark Cuban, his wife, the team’s TV cameramen and the stat crew working courtside all wore new red T-shirts that had the Mavs’ logo on the front and ``United We Stand″ beneath it.
Minnesota Duluth, host of the Frozen Four women’s NCAA hockey tournament, discussed the allied invasion during its team meeting Wednesday night.
``I don’t think anybody got a lot of sleep last night. It didn’t have too much to do with nerves, either,″ said Shannon Miller, coach of the top-seeded Bulldogs.
Jockey Alex Solis still plans to go to Dubai to ride Captain Squire and Lusty Latin on Dubai World Cup day March 29.
Jeff Mullins, who trains both horses, plans to leave Sunday. His horses already are in Dubai.
``I’ve been in contact with my people over there,″ Mullins said. ``They said everything’s quiet, everything’s nice. Everybody we’ve talked to over there said there’s nothing to worry about.″
Warren Stute, who leaves Tuesday to saddle defending Godolphin Mile champion Grey Memo, said he spoke to his groom in Dubai on Thursday.
``He said everything is good,″ Stute said. ``They’re having six races this afternoon.″
At the Ohio boys’ basketball tournament in Columbus, Ohio, fans bowed their heads before the national anthem in a moment of silence to honor U.S. troops in the Middle East.
Ex-Marine Jim France, 59, now the principal and football coach at Akron Manchester High School, wore a red, white and blue sweater to Value City Arena. He said he’s glad to see the games go on.
``I would think it would be the worst thing to stop them,″ he said. ``That’s what they want for us, not to do our normal thing.″