There’s something great about big, state schools like IU. I think this is important to realize for both students and alumni who may take the joy of IU for granted, as well as for prospective students who may be considering lots of different types of colleges and universities. When I was applying to schools last year, I was looking at a large range of schools. I applied to three state universities: Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina, and then five or six smaller private schools in the South and East. In the end, I chose to go to Indiana over Vanderbilt, a medium-sized private university in Nashville. Like most big state schools, Vandy has a strong emphasis on Division I sports and the “work hard, play hard” atmosphere. Those were both very important to me as I looked at schools—I wanted a certain atmosphere where I could flourish and enjoy myself.
What I didn’t know then was just how amazing large state schools like IU are. This really hit me last week during spring break. I went to Panama City Beach with a bunch of my townie friends (and a few kids from Bloomington who go to Butler, Ole Miss, and Whitman College in Washington). There were a lot of other IU students down there—it’s one of those typical, boozy, college spring break locations if you don’t know—and whenever we were wearing IU gear (most notably Thursday night for the NCAA tournament basketball game) we would get cheered at by IU fans and yelled at by Kentucky fans. But that’s the fun. Indiana students, alums, and fans are so proud of their university and they love to show it. So do our hated neighbors from the south, and even though our basketball rivalry is fun, giving each other a hard time on the beach is even more enjoyable. It’s all about fun and games and loving your university.
With the resurrection of Indiana basketball, the state—not just the University—has its mojo back. On Saturday night, Indiana played in the Round of 32 of the NCAA basketball tournament against Virginia Commonwealth. The Hoosiers trailed by 5 with less than two minutes to go, but managed to squeak out a win to reach our first Sweet 16 in a decade. I watched the game at Buffa Louie’s, a local wing place and sports bar, just around the corner from Bloomington’s most popular bar. When the game ended, the audience at Buffa’s erupted and the chants started in earnest. Walking down the street, the noise coming from Kirkwood’s bars was even louder. Hoosiers love our basketball, but what’s more, everyone else knows about that passion too. I got two texts from former boarding school buddies as soon as the game ended. Both are Massachusetts born and bred and have lived their entire lives on the East Coast. One is currently at Yale and the other is finishing up his senior year of high school. The first text read “Hoosiers killing it” and the second “WOOOOW. How did that happen?” My response was simple: “Because this is Indiana.” That’s all you have to say when it comes to Hoosier basketball. It’s really something special.