Last Thursday night, the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin State University axed West Virginia’s sweet sixteen hopes in an upset 70-56 win. Senior Thomas Walkup was at his best — drawing fouls, hitting his shots, generally making a name for himself and his team. The game kept fans on their feet.
Since I live near SFA, I was on my feet, too, watching from home and marveling at the young man’s savvy with the ball. He’s not the tallest guy on the court, making him an unlikely hero, but he knows what he’s doing in the game. After the upset win over WVA, he praised the entire team for their success, despite the fact that he was the one who cranked them to victory–earning 30 of the 70 points.
So, writers, Lesson #1: Heroic, unlikely, humble. Great trio of adjectives to develop a heart-winning hero.
That same night, my alma mater, my dear Texas Aggies, beat the ever-lovin’ tar outta Green Bay Phoenix, 92-65. Loved the game, but it wasn’t as exciting as the SFA game. Why? Because the Ags were expected to win. SFA wasn’t. Am I proud of my Aggies? You bet. But I was ecstatic for SFA.
Lesson #2 for writers: Fans love an underdog.
That same night, the University of Texas — A&M’s long-time rival in the Big 12 before we moved to the SEC — lost when a Northern Iowa player sent the ball soaring from beyond mid-court and sunk a 3-pointer as the game-ending buzzer sounded. And the crowd went wild.
Lesson #3 for writers: Make your reader go wild — plan a surprise ending.
Here we go. Of the teams I wanted to watch during March Madness, two of the three moved on to Sunday’s game.
We knew, my husband and I, that SFA would have a tough time against Notre Dame. This was just the second time our boys have been to the NCAA championship series, and the first time they’d been this far. Notre Dame, on the other hand, has won sixteen championships. We didn’t get to watch this game, but listened to it on Sirius radio on the way home from the farm. We had moderately high hopes — SFA had been playing like old pros this year, so even though it was unlikely, we thought they might have a chance.
Every time SFA pulled ahead, we rocked the truck with our shouts. Every time they missed a basket, our moans would echo. The lead flipped back and forth, until the end. Notre Dame had kept our beloved Thomas Walkup under close surveillance, double-teaming him and rendering him somewhat ineffective. We have a deep bench, though, and we fought valiantly, but it wasn’t meant to be. SFA lost by one point. One sorry little point.
Lesson #4 for writers: If your hero must lose his battle, make him courageous in the fight and give him that never say die attitude.
The same attitude Texas A&M had in their game against the team that beat UT — Northern Iowa. Looked like the hunt for the NCAA Tournament Championship was over for the Ags during most of the game. By the last 30 seconds or so, my Ags were down by twelve points. Twelve points, with only thirty seconds left. With sheer determination and grit — and some great moves and baskets — we tied the game. With only thirty seconds left! We went on to win 92-88 in double-overtime.
The fans weren’t just wild–they were frenzied.
Lesson #5 for writers: Wild is good, frenzied is better. No reader should be able to put your book down during its climax.
Thing is, Northern Iowa played a heckuva game. The win was theirs, if it wasn’t for the Ags’ miracle come-back. And once the Aggies got fired up like that, there was no stopping them. But Northern Iowa held a never say die attitude too. Even though my boys were fired up to win, so was the other team. Did you read that above? The Aggies won in the second overtime. Iowa didn’t roll over and play dead just because they didn’t win during game time.
In interviews after the game, the team leaders and their coach — all teary-eyed and sniffing — gave A&M credit for playing one incredible game. I felt so sorry for them, I wished they had been playing a different team and had won. Don’t get me wrong, I was so excited for my guys. But the poignancy of the interview with the losing team ripped my heart out. Northern Iowa, reeling after a disappointing loss, were so honorable in defeat that they can’t be labeled as losers. They’re an amazing group of young men.
Lesson #6 for writers: Poignancy wins over melodramatics every time.
There you go. Who needs writing manuals when you can learn invaluable lessons from March Madness?