Here are, far and away, the Top Three athletic events that I attended in 2011, along with a little story for each:
(Note: I ruled out anything I coached in or prep contest that I attended; this is simply as a "fan".)
3. Surprise Speaker
In early August, during the second week at my new school, I received a phone call from my principal. "Craig, he said, "We're going to lunch." In a quick panic, I glanced over my calendar, hoping I hadn't overlooked any district meeting or administrative session. Nothing had been planned, so I simply grabbed my keys and headed up to the front office, along with our other assistant principal's and our athletic director. Come to find out, I was on my way to Fellowship of Christian Athletes 2011 Luncheon through the Gaston County chapter. We walked into a large banquet hall that was filled with coaches, athletes, administrators, and FCA members from across the area. After the blessing, the welcoming member of FCA told us, "We have a little while before our keynote speaker arrives...we believe Coach Bowden is about ten minutes away." I perked up out of my seat, leaned over to my athletic director and asked, "Which Bowden?!?" He looked at me, smiled, and said "Bobby". I was provided the opportunity to hear Coach Bobby Bowden speak on not just football and the Fellowship, but leadership and living the "right way". Needless to say, that day in early-August provided a tremendous experience that was both non-expected and truly inspirational.
I have lived outside of Charlotte, North Carolina since January of 2005. Before then, I lived in Michigan. Before Memorial Day weekend of this past year, I had never attended a NASCAR race. I had never really wanted to. I didn't consider myself a NASCAR fan, but you cannot live here and not have an understanding of the sport. In mid-May, I received an email from Time Warner Cable about a chance to win two tickets to the Coca-Cola 600. Normally, I delete this emails immediately. I cannot explain why I decided to fill out the information and enter the drawing. One week later, I received an email stating that I had won two tickets for the race. The email appeared to be pretty legitimate, but still, I was skeptical. When the tickets arrived the next day at my house, I couldn't believe it.
I immediately called up my buddy John, a fellow NASCAR virgin, and asked if he would be interested. (Side note: Our wives are best friends, so we are fortunate to make our plans, since the wives can make theirs.) I spoke to a few guys that go to the race every year, and our plan was simple: We'll go early, check out the tailgate experience, get inside in time to see the start, watch a few laps, and then take off when it gets boring. Since the tickets were free (and parking, which was shocking), so we did not worry about getting our money's worth.
We entered the speedway about 15 minutes before race time and realized that our seats were ridiculous. Sixth-row, across from the pits (Dale, Jr., to be exact), right before the finish line. All of the sudden, this experience became more than "we're just here with free tickets." The adrenaline rush that quickly filled my entire body, we quickly became involved the race. The roar of the engines around turn four on re-starts is unique to any other sporting event. I found myself selecting random cars and keeping my eyes on them for a couple laps, then watching other cars. My buddy and I looked at each other during a caution (since we couldn't talk during the normal laps) and both agreed, eloquently put: "This is awesome. We're staying." Our seats were so good, our faces were covered in black after the race. We both got much more than our money's worth.
1. "Go Blue!" comes to me
Selection Sunday. Die-hard University of Michigan fan. Michigan's on the bubble. Greg Gumble's voice...
"The eight versus nine game, to also be played in Charlotte, North Carolina, will include John Belein's University of Michigan squad..."
If you are any type of sports fan, I am sure you have seen the reaction when a "bubble" team is announced to be in the tournament and everyone goes nuts. That was me, only I was by myself in the living room. Immediately, my phone starting blowing up with texts, mostly including the question, "Are you going?". To make things even better, the game was assigned the Friday afternoon timeslot and we did not have school that day (No, college basketball does not dictate the school calendar in North Carolina). I called my buddy Jaime, a fellow Michigan fan, who had just moved to Charlotte a few months prior. We were geared and ready to go.
Attending an NCAA tournament game had always been on my "Sporting Bucket List", but to have the opportunity to watch MY team in MY town was a dream come true. The EpiCentre in uptown Charlotte provided melting pot of various college basketball fans in attendance for their games. I love being able to see complete strangers, give them a "Go Blue!" and receive it back. The game itself, couldn't have gone any better, as Michigan waxed Tennessee (if you remember, this was Bruce Pearl's last game as coach). We stuck around for the Duke-Hampton game, but quickly began searching for tickets for Sunday's match-up.
The two games we were able to attend on Sunday were nothing short of spectacular, besides the result of the Michigan-Duke game. The UNC-Washington game was first, which was much more competitive as anyone expected. Since Michigan was playing Duke, all the UNC fans quickly became Michigan supporters. Michigan hung with Duke, provided a valiant comeback, with Darius Morris's lay-up as time expired almost forcing overtime.
I was able to see my beloved Wolverines twice in one weekend on the biggest stage of college basketball, by far the top athletic event I attended in 2011.
Thanks for reading and please follow me via Twitter @CSmithGoBlue
The opinions shared in this blog belong to Craig Smith and do not represent the school or district in which he works.