• Doug Neckers

Basketball Mania

Forget, for a moment, the war, the pandemic, inflation and all the other assorted horrors. For it is March, and that means… basketball mania!


Sportswriters from Maine to Montana and beyond are writing about the Final Four -- who got in; who didn’t get in; which team should have been selected by the men’s selection committee that wasn’t (Toledo) who was left out of the woman’s NCAA tournament (again Toledo.)


And why is it, anyway, that our schools always seem to get a raw deal? In some cities, the traditional defiant cry “wait ’til next year!” has become “will never happen, not even next year” according to some sportswriters.


And yet there is a real story of great basketball, in this case, women’s intercollegiate basketball, just a few hours west in Michigan. Meet the Hope College Flying Dutch, a team whose record this year is 30 wins and a single loss. The Dutch beat the NYU women’s team on March 12, 83 to 64 --beat, that is, a team from the largest private university in the country, with more than 50,000 students. Hope has barely 3,000.


NYU is the largest private university in the country, a place to which billionaire venture capitalist Ken Langone once gave $100 million dollars to help pay medical students’ tuition, and volunteered to raise more.


That did not, however, do the Violets, the NYT women’s basketball team, much good. There’s no evidence of any multi-million dollar gifts from Mr. Langone coming their way, and in a way, I understand that.


Both the billionaire and I were born in the 1930s, and when we were undergraduates in the ’50s there were no intercollegiate sports for women. The only sport for which women were eligible in my time at Hope was archery.


Yet today, competitive women’s sports are trying to be as big as men’s. They’ve made great strides, but are still a far cry from that in spite of the agreement last month that called for equal pay for the men’s and women’s soccer teams. The gap is apparent in terms of media perception as well. The New York Times couldn’t find Holland, Michigan even when the NYU woman’s team was playing -- and losing -- to Hope there.


Now had the Times been looking for former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who lives not far from Hope, I’m sure they would have had no trouble finding her. But their sports department couldn’t find DeVos Fieldhouse on the Hope campus, or even publish a score as the NYU Violets went down at the hands of the vroulikers (Dutch for women) from Western Michigan.


Could that be because there are more salespeople who work for Amway, the main source of the DeVos family wealth, in Beijing, than New York City?


Last time I was in China, the Beijing airport was filled with ‘shop Amway’ signs.

What the Times also likely doesn’t know is that more Hope College graduates than NYU ones have gone on to win Nobel prizes or mentor Nobel prize winners in chemistry.


Well, the East Coast ignorance of what was going on in the west was famous in Horace Greeley’s day, and evidently hasn’t much changed. In an event, the Hope women won, and are scheduled to play in the Final Four of Division III women’s basketball in Pittsburgh this Thursday. (March 17)


But who are they to play? One Pittsburgh sports PR website says Hope is to play Trinity at Duquesne on Thursday night. So I asked … which Trinity?


There’s one in Connecticut, but their women’s team lost its league finals to Amherst. There’s one in Texas, but that Trinity would be more likely to have bull riding qualify as an NCAA sport.


The answer seems to be not Trinity, but Trine. Trine University, formerly Tri-State University in Angola, Indiana, is another small private school that’s been around since 1884, almost as long as Hope, and which offers degrees in the arts and sciences, business, education, and engineering.


Somehow, I find it fitting that the semi-finals all come down to these two small schools, largely overlooked but which have been striving for well over a century to provide the best liberal education they can.


Trine, by the way, was the only school to beat Hope all year-- but they played three times, and Hope did beat them twice.


None of this compares in importance, of course to what’s going on in the world today, or the fact that too many colleges large and small have too many students who cannot read well enough. But we all need well-rounded lives.


And every time I think about the Hope women beating those from the big New York school…. I can’t help but smile.

***


Douglas Neckers, in addition to being a proud Hope alum, is an organic chemist, the McMaster distinguished professor emeritus and the founder of the Center for Photochemical Sciences at Bowling Green State University. He is also a former board chair of the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, N.Y.


Photo by Kylie Osullivan on Unsplash

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With Dr. Doug Neckers

Examining the intersections of politics, medicine, and science impacting our nation