Opportunity to vicariously experience the “thrill of victory or the agony of defeat” was television’s brain child of Edgar Scherick and produced by Roone Arledge, perhaps best remembered as ABC’s Wide World of Sports (1961-98). Sports enthusiasts then tuned in on Saturday afternoons. March Madness fans will be clinging to the edge of their seats for most of three weeks. I’ll be one of those.

Next week, basketball fans will be glued once more to television sets as NCAA competition gets underway. The first tournament was played in 1939 and involved just eight Division I teams. Teams increased to 16 in 1951, 32 in 1975, 64 in 1985 and now a roster of 68 teams from a variety of conferences that have a chance to become National Champions.

My own motivation to watch probably stems from a refusal to accept the reality of physical changes commonly associated with aging. With the exception of Jack LaLanne (age 54 at the time) who defeated Arnold Schwarzenegger (age 21) in an informal fitness contest, most can expect a gradual decline in strength, endurance and ability as years in retirement pile up.

Reflecting on teenage years, genetics provided a late growth spurt that brought my height to 6’5.” Everyone assumed I was a brilliant basketball player. When asked to play in a church league in the late ’60s, it wasn’t long before those who recruited me discovered the truth: when it comes to basketball, tallness doesn’t assure talent on the court.

Despite this fact, a game in which I overperformed remains securely locked away in memory. The effort would never compare with the talents of Minot High’s Erik Wentz (now playing for Macalester College) or Darik Dissette (at NDSU soon). But, it was the only time I could do no wrong on the court. One of several crazy shots during the game (a right-handed hook launched from the top of the key) banked off the backboard and rattled through. Along with everyone else there, I couldn’t believe it. I finished the game with 18 points. The following week, things returned to normal – when the stat sheet recorded my total game points as zero.

Athletic ability has never been my strong suit. While others climbed rope to the ceiling in 8th grade gym, I remained grounded. Chin-ups were impossible; weight lifting was best accomplished with the bar only, weights removed; squat-thrusts winded me. I could have been the inspiration for today’s Diary of a Whimpey Kid book series. Even my reign as 8th grade ping-pong champion came to a screeching halt with Roger White’s challenge. “I could beat you left-handed,” he claimed. We bet the maximum 25¢. He trounced me. Turned out Roger was left-handed.

In Minot during my mid-30s, I devoted lunch hours to laps on the running track in the downtown YMCA’s basement. Nothing had changed. I was still a glutton for punishment. It was embarrassing to be repeatedly lapped by virtually every other runner, including a fellow with an artificial leg. We became good friends. When I mention perhaps I might do better with a leg like his, he told me the price was too high. I hated running.

The process of aging now brings on different physical hurdles to overcome. Like… shoveling snow, twisting the lid off of the previously unopened pickle jar, standing up in the bathtub or recovery from a pulled muscled after reaching for the plate of nachos strategically located on the Schwinn Airdyne’s seat during a Vikings game.

Superman was able to turn the clock back flying repeatedly around the world from east to west. Next week I’ll do my best to turn the clock back – remembering that 18-point game from the ’60s. I’ll watch March Madness players battle it out -as I live vicariously putting on a clinic in my head, hitting threes from downtown, dunking a few dozen alley-oops and draining fall-away jumpers. Although Superman knew how to turn back time, I’ll depend on imagination to block the clock’s Kryptonite that brings an agony of defeat into retirement.

Sommers is a retired Minot orthodontist, past president of the N.D. Dental and Orthodontist Associations, husband, father, grandfather and reluctant diaper changer (not his — grandkids’!)


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today