More than a competition: sports bring people together
Published 4:29 pm Friday, February 17, 2023
It’s been a while since I had the chance to write about basketball.
For a while, the pandemic put my in-person basketball game attendance on hold. And last season, my favorite team (NC State men’s basketball) gave a solidly abysmal performance that I simply chose not to watch.
But things are looking up this year. Coach Kevin Keatts recruited a handful of transfers that make good additions to the team, and even though there have been a few injuries this season, other players have stepped up to fill in the gaps. They’re a lot more confident than last year’s team, and have been able to bounce back more easily from losses.
In fact, in all the recent interviews I’ve seen from players Terquavion Smith and DJ Burns, they both pointed out that the team is really getting along well and having a good time together. I definitely think that helps.
I haven’t been able to catch every game on TV this year, but I did manage to snag some time for the game against Duke a few weeks ago. Sorry to any Duke fans out there, but I had a blast watching that one! It’s really not often that you get a chance to watch a blowout win against a usually top-tier team.
The Wolfpack has been doing so well actually, that they snuck into this week’s AP Top 25. They clocked in at #22, which is their first top 25 ranking in four years, I believe. And another stat I saw floating around Twitter: this is the first time in a few decades that NC State has been ranked while Duke and Carolina aren’t. Cool! Let us celebrate this rare opportunity!
Of course, as a longtime fan, I’m also going to temper my expectations. Sometimes, having that special number in front of your team name adds a little too much pressure. (As I write this, the team is preparing to play Virginia on the road, followed by two more games as well.) But whatever happens for the rest of the season, it’s been an entertaining one so far, and that’s all I really ask for each year.
Actually, no matter what happens the rest of the basketball season, I’ve already experienced my personal highlight. This past weekend, my brother and I made the trek to Raleigh to attend State’s game versus Georgia Tech. Usually, this wouldn’t be anything exciting to write about. I’ve been to plenty of games before.
But we attended this particular game because it also served as a reunion for the 1983 cheerleading squad.
If any of you know my father, you probably also know he was a proud member of that cheerleading team. That year was the same season that the NC State men’s basketball team, coached by the late great Jim Valvano, won the national championship in an exciting underdog run to the final game (which was won on a buzzer-beater dunk by Lorenzo Charles).
If you watch footage of that game, you might catch a glimpse of my dad rushing onto the court from the sidelines along with the rest of the cheerleaders. It’s a chaotic scene of celebrating players, cheerleaders, fans, and even Coach Valvano all running around, and it never fails to put a smile on my face when I watch it.
Due to circumstances out of our control, Pops wasn’t able to attend Saturday’s game, so he sent my brother and I instead. He even made us wear the “1983 NC State Cheerleader” reunion shirts, even though clearly that decade happened before we were born. (They were very nice shirts though!)
We had a great time getting to meet many of his old college friends. Many of the names were familiar from the stories I’d heard growing up, but this was an opportunity to finally learn their faces as well. One of the guys shared a funny story about how he and Pops decided to do back handsprings down the football field after a game. They both got about three-quarters of the way down the field before they both became too dizzy to continue.
I mentioned this story to Pops when we got home later, and he added that they were just doing that to keep warm. The temperatures were apparently well below freezing that day!
During the basketball game itself, we all sat together in one section. And I do believe the group of former cheerleaders were the loudest fans in all of PNC Arena that day. I stayed seated for most of the game, but they were on their feet, up and down, for a lot of it, even calling out an old cheer at one point. The enthusiasm was contagious, and I’m sure I was smiling the whole game.
In fact, I barely paid attention to the score most of the time. Even at the beginning of the game, when the team was struggling a bit to find their groove, I was having more fun watching the guys play than fretting whether or not we’d win the game.
Though, thankfully, the Wolfpack did actually beat Georgia Tech in the end. So that was a nice bonus to a good day!
Overall, I think everyone had a great time getting to see each other again all those decades later. Reunions can be a lot of fun. Even though I wasn’t technically a part of the original group, I was still glad to meet a lot of people who know my dad, and I was honored to attend in his place.
It’s an experience I’m going to remember for a long time. And it never would have happened if not for some dedicated cheerleaders cheering on a dedicated team of basketball players 40 years ago.
Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7206.