The scene at Fred Delay Gymnasium looked like the end of a feel-good sports movie as people players, friends and family lingered after the kickoff for Union University’s basketball seasons, Bulldog Madness, Thursday, October 21.
Bulldog Madness is Union’s version of Midnight Madness, an event at many colleges that kicks off the new basketball season with pyrotechnics, ridiculous introductions and rabid fans excited about the new season.
Midnight Madness started on October 15, 1970 at the University of Maryland as head coach Lefty Driesell made his players run around the track at midnight at the very first day his team was able to practice. There were no fans, just coaches with flashlights stalking the track to make sure no one tries to cheat their run.
Today, major Division I schools, like the University of Kentucky or Duke, sell out of tickets immediately because fans camp out for them hoping to get the first glimpse at their new team.
Union’s “midnight madness” is not a crazy training exercise or excessive and boisterous celebration. It’s one of the most family-friendly sporting events due to the lack of pressure and opposing teams or fans.
The “madness” started at 8 p.m. and involved line dances, cheerleaders lead the students in cheers, the men and women basketball teams scrimmaged for the fans and the faculty played the students in a scrimmage of their own.
The environment was light-hearted as coaches were barely on the benches for the scrimmages and mostly shook hands, talked to boosters and friends and enjoyed being a part of basketball event that applied no pressure to perform.
Behind the men’s bench stood the men’s team athletic trainer Jonny Wilson. He looked like he might jump onto the court at any moment to bandage a player up during the shoot-arounds.
“I’m always nervous,” Wilson said. “Guys do things they wouldn’t normally do [during Bulldog Madness] to show off.” Right as he said that someone landed awkwardly after a layup and he sprung into action, but realized no one was hurt and he could calm down.
Wilson wasn’t the only one slightly on edge. Charlie Wilson, senior, said he was feeling a little bit of pressure before the scrimmage.
“I haven’t played [in an organized game] in almost two years,” Wilson said. “I had jitters, but once the first shot went in they were gone.”
Both teams have a lot of new players, giving fans a first look at the new players and a chance to see what the season will look like. The women’s team showed off post players that looked dominant on the block and sharp shooters from range that will create an inside-out style of play for the Lady Bulldogs.
The men started their scrimmage off a little slow, going scoreless for around two minutes until freshman Tray Boyd nailed a three, opening it up for the rest of the team to start scoring. Another newcomer, senior Jarad Scott, looked great nailing several threes in a row.
Overall, the scrimmages were light hearted as players tried ridiculous passes, shot from deeper than normal and went for the highlight plays they can’t normally attempt.
Charlie Wilson won the dunk contest after the scrimmage by leaping over Boyd for his final dunk. When asked about what he thinks about when he’s in the air to finish an alley-oop or dunk he kept it simple:
“Go get the ball. Find the rim. Don’t miss,” Wilson said as he recited his three steps to dunking like it was that easy.
The students beat the faculty 16-15 in their
scrimmage, but in the game Paul Jackson, professor of biblical studies, nailed several threes. One while he was still looking down at his feet.
As the ceremonies came to a close, players and coaches lingered to laugh about some of the ridiculous feats they tried. Some of the players helped the cheerleaders put their thick mats away and the bright gym lights and sounds of laughter in the gym was an oasis compared to the typical, cut-throat sports environment.