An ejection seat and helmet at the Cosmodome. The author thought this science museum and the basketball were worht the trip despite the fact he had to spend time in Kansas.
Leaving CEU at 10 p.m. a van containing eight passengers, two sets of golf clubs, numerous cameras and enough luggage to survive a year on the road, loyal fans started what would be an monotonous 16-hour ride in a state van. Leaving during the night the view was less than majestic. For the first four hours or so I felt like a prisoner being transported somewhere to be locked up.
Once we left Utah I felt like an under-dressed ambassador of this great state. Managing to sleep off and on, I awoke to a beautiful sunrise over a bleak landscape that made me question the seriousness of the Wizard of Oz.
Having never experienced the plains states I had an open mind and heart going into this journey. Stopping for breakfast my first run in with locals reminded me that pickup trucks are vehicles of choice in most of this country. Our convoy was two of maybe six cars in the parking lot that were not trucks. The most striking surprise was the wind; ferocious and cold early that spring morning. With the flat terrain, overwhelming billboards were a welcome sight, something to take the mind off of the horizon in the distance. At first the signs were normal; hotels, gas stations, restaurants and various spots of local interest. Then the reality of where I was sunk in.
Jesus died for your sins read some of the billboards. I've seen these same messages in California along I-5. Abortion stops a beating heart. Wait. What? Did I just read that right? Sure did. Being in the bible belt was apparent fast and furious. These were some of the more tame examples of the views of the state. After seeing so many of these epitaphs praising religious figures and the overtly bold stance on their views of abortion I realized that I would have little to take my mind off the now boring drive.
And I was doing this all in the name of seeing basketball; CEU at the national championships.
Another popular sign warned drivers that drunk driving was a serious offense, as it should be. The funniest part of these signs is they would alternate every mile or so. Jesus, abortion, drunk driving, repeat. Perhaps I'm too used to the relative easy going attitude of Utah. Or maybe it was the overall sense of wonderment. This is what people talk about when discussing "interesting" road signage in the heartland of America.
Finally arriving in Hutchinson, Kan., things got a little weirder when not one but three GPS devices managed to lead us astray trying to find our hotel. Things were getting weird on this trip. The sad thing is that it was just a forerunner for the ultimate experience of the journey.
My first meal outside of fast food came at the tasty and decently priced Sirloin Stockade. A decent buffet reminiscent of Golden Corral. An expertly prepared sirloin was set in front of me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Beef in Kansas is nice, I never had a less than desirable steak during my stint there.
Finally we were able to check in to our hotel which turned out to be some nice digs. Holiday Inn Express was a pleasant stay, the continental breakfast was good, nothing too fancy but nothing didn't meet my expectations either. Also free newspapers were enjoyed by our group which included several journalists.
On Tuesday afternoon we headed to the venue of the tournament on the campus of Hutchinson Community College. The arena was a double deck bowl and the court radiated from the lights shining down from the domed roof. CEU played a very tight game on Tuesday against North Platte Community College until they settled down and started looking like the team that handled their opponents from the SWAC with ease. Never having been involved with reporting sporting events from the press table I was unaware of the unspoken and unpublicized rules concerning professional behavior. Apparently cheering from press row is frowned upon. Forbidden is really a better term. Not knowing the name of who chastised me is probably best because of liability reasons so I'll describe him briefly.
Overweight, pungent body odor and horrible dye job are all that I need to say. This wonderful person from the tournament started yelling at me saying this was my last warning to stop cheering on the professional press row. Wait, I wondered. What happened to my first warning I thought? Oh well, maybe he couldn't count. I hoped they have adult education classes he can take to alleviate the problem. Also he promptly tried to be badge heavy. "I'm the media director of the tournament and I'm going to kick you out," he yelled inches from my face. Would it be rude to offer a Tic Tac I thought?
Turns out, however, this man was in fact far from media director. I had had several conversations with the director already that day. Wow real stand up people they had trying to use fear as a mode of control.
Before I alienate myself from a whole state and political party that I'm still a registered voter for, let me make a poor attempt at amends. Pompous jerks can be found anywhere and I realize that. Fear is a powerful tool that can be used to control the masses but lashing out at a complete stranger when you yourself are a poor example of anything that should be exemplified is just plain ignorant.
Following that encounter I was on my best non-cheering behavior and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the evening watching basketball. Other than that outburst by this man, press row was friendly and well behaved.
Day two started early as I stumbled downstairs for breakfast. Getting my first free papers I thought I was in heaven. Coffee, orange juice and reading material how could life get any better. Wait it did get better when I realized Sports Center was on. Ah, now life was complete. A day break from covering CEU was the chance to experience Hutch in all its glory. So what did we do? Leave Hutch and travel to Yoder, an Amish community. Knowing pretty close to nothing about their culture and religion I was excited to find out as much as I could. We traveled along the interstate until fueling our van was necessary and I was commissioned to get directions to the town. After already having some disagreeable interactions I was thrilled to go at it again. Oh well, here goes nothing I thought. The cashier turned out to be a very nice young woman, after exchanging pleasantries and the "I'm not from here" routine she deftly guided me on my way. What a sweet person. I'll think of her when I picture Kansas.
Once we arrived in Yoder we headed first to the Carriage Crossing. At first I was a little distraught with the wait time but after our food arrived it was bliss by the forkful. Locally raised meat and vegetables were a welcome delight in comparison with the processed food ingested daily by the majority of this nation. After the meal we ventured to the local shops and interacted with the Amish. Well the only thing local about the shop workers was that they lived in close proximity; not a one was Amish.
Visiting the furniture store was amazing; solid wood construction all hand made. Beautiful craftsmanship does not begin to explain the awe I felt in the showroom. Having never known much about quilting I was amazed to see such intricate patterns all stitched by hand, and by hand I mean every stitch was done with a needle and thread in someones hands.
After leaving Yoder we made our way back to Hutch. That night, still being St. Patrick's Day I decided to imbibe. Alone I might add since I was the official drunk of our group. I spent a couple of hours in a bar where I socialized with coaches and recruiters from around the nation. Even not working I still found my way to those from out of town who shared common interest. A quick note, Kansas has almost the exact same liquor laws as Utah. Gasp, I know. Hard to fathom that there is another state this backwards. The holiday was lack luster at best but I did enjoy myself. I've now gone to a bar in Kansas; check that off my bucket list.
Thursday was a solidly awesome day except the temperature dropped a staggering 30 degrees or so. The wind howled and made me wonder what realm of hell I was in. Playing Wallace that night was the high point. In fact really the only noteworthy thing of my experiences. Wallace was difficult but the Eagles found their happy thoughts and ran through them. Struggling at times the end result was welcomed and a relief. Now we had to get through Howard. On a side note it snowed that day. After the snow had fallen it turned to ice. I now know something about ice storms. Never again do I hope I experience it. Give me snow or give me rain. You can keep the ice.
On Friday the great Cosmosphere was the destination for the group and what an experience that was. Inside the Cosmosphere the bottom level was a space history museum. Having notable pieces of history such as a completed V2 rocket from World War II and it was also the self proclaimed largest collection of Soviet space memorabilia outside of Moscow. Dr. Goddard's laboratory located on the ground floor gives people a first hand view of what makes rockets work and you get to experience explosions first hand. The IMAX which isn't as tall as I remember them being was okay. The movie we watched was about the Vikings and I'm not huge on things of that nature. Overall the museum was awesome and I highly recommend it. To experience its entirety a couple hours minimum must be set aside.
The game against Howard in the semi-finals was a prime example of teams finishing strong. In college, the game is 40 minutes long. CEU man handled them for 36 but in the last four minutes allowed them to cut a 14-point deficit and come back to win by four. I'm sure life lessons were learned that night by many people.
That night I hung out with my friends Bombay Saphire and Jose. Not driving I was allowed to get loose and unwind. The crushing force of defeat is unimaginable and I wasn't even playing.
Saturday was check out day at the hotel and proved to be a sad one. I missed my bathtub draining after I shut off the water. Strange fact. When I was showering water would fill the tub but when I turned off the water it would drain before I dried myself off. How does that work out?
After check out the local movie theatre was calling. Come pay a decent price on a ticket but get taken advantage of with concessions. Not being able to resist I went and had the pleasure of watching She's Out of My League; vulgar, raunchy and just my style. I laughed throughout the movie and was entertained for sure. Lone Star Steakhouse was again on the menu for our last meal in Kansas. A 14oz Texas Prime Rib was my selection and it came out tasting wonderful.
The final game against Navarro opened with CEU coming out flat.
"It's not for lack of trying, they just couldn't get anything going," Coach Craig said. He was right, the Eagles were playing hard but the game was a series of errors and missed shots. At the half the score was 28-16 with CEU trailing. I've seen higher scoring games in high school. With both teams emotionally drained after losses the previous night it was easy to see how things were going so wrong for both teams. Late in the second half, and by late I mean like Howard run late. CEU started to click, the lights came on and the team gelled with the leadership of team captain Leon Sutton. Sutton never gives up on his team until that final buzzer sounds. Trailing, what did the Eagles have to lose? Nothing. Dropping shots and finally controlling the game that should have been dominated, CEU mounted a huge comeback. With seconds left in regulation Sutton soared over his defenders and sank the game tying basket. In overtime the Eagles who had the momentum already dominated. Navarro seemed resigned to accept their fate but the Eagles reinforced it with killer efficiency and the finesse that had led them to great victories throughout the season.
Watching the national tournament is something that I hope I can experience again. Seeing a team I care about play for the chance to win would more than make up for having to put up with Kansas again. Call me old fashioned but now that I've been there, I don't see a reason to go back. Dorothy wanting to go home was fine and dandy in the movie. Now when I think about that iconic classic I shudder. The life lessons to be learned are great but such a terrible locale. I wonder if Oklahoma would have worked as home instead.
The van ride back was awesome except that I took Tylenol PM to put me to sleep and I felt the after effects well into the next day. I don't recommend taking drugs to pass out before sitting in a car. Walking around in a semiconscious state was awkward. No, I'm not drunk, yes I'm intoxicated. Missing the beautiful scenery on the ride out, I missed it coming back because of the stupid pills. I finally woke up and was coherent enough to realize we were not on the interstate. Things were ending weird.
"Where are we?" I asked.
Come to find out they shut the westbound lanes of I-70. Wherever it was looked like something out of a Butch Cassidy adventure, I kept expecting to get stopped and robbed. That would have made for a much better story.
Looking back on the journey both mentally and physically I am grateful for the opportunity to go. I don't know the next time I'll be able to see that level of basketball played live. Seeing the Eagles rally in their first two games, falter in their third and finally come back and play the basketball I knew they could in the fourth was amazing. Coach Craig said it best when he stated a few players will get the glory and recognition but without the entire team no one would be there. After all it is five on five. Not one or two on five.
As far as Hutch is concerned. I love that city because of the Cosmosphere and the tournament. Other than that, bible belt fans can keep it. Keep the whole state, there is nothing there that could or would make me stay for more than a week.