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March Madness!

By @ 03/21/15 in Blog

Founded in March of 1906, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) regulates, promotes, and organizes athletic programs and tournaments at American colleges and universities. Currently, 1,281 institutions belong to the NCAA, comprising over 400,000 student athletes. They are sorted into Division I, II, or III leagues, depending on the size of their athletic programs.

The NCAA organized its first men’s basketball tournament in 1939, when only eight teams competed, and Oregon – then known as the Tall Firs – took home the title. Since then, the tournament has expanded to include many more teams – and take tons more time. Informally known today as March Madness, this three-week championship series opens with the First Four – eight teams competing for one of the last four spots in the Conference – and ends with the Final Four games April 4th, leading to the championship game on April 6th.  In a nod to fairness for all, every Tournament game is played in a neutral venue, so no team can claim a home court advantage.

The NCAA tournament pits 68 collegiate basketball teams against one another. The invited teams are announced on Selection Sunday and are organized regionally onto brackets. Selection Sunday sparks a spate of busy Bracketology across the nation – a practice where fans and professional-prognosticator-wannabes proclaim their predictions for the placement and outcomes of the various teams on the NCAA bracket. Thanks to Philadelphia native and college marketing director Joe Lunardi, bracketology has become a much-anticipated annual ritual for college basketball fans. Lunardi’s uncanny insight is evinced by his prediction of every single one of the 68 teams on the 2013 bracket. He has become so skilled at predicting the bracket in advance of Selection Sunday that he has come to be known as Joe Brackets. He even teaches a course in bracketology at St. Joseph’s College!

Much like fantasy football, bracketology generates buzz for the Tournament, encourages competitive forecasting amongst fevered fans, and offers an exciting diversion from the final days of a dreary winter. 

March Madness Trivia

  • UCLA has the most championships of any school, with 11 titles.
  • Most of the schools invited to March Madness are from the “power six” conferences: the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC. Northwestern, part of the Big Ten, is the only school from one of these conferences to never be invited to the tournament.
  • In 1970, Austin Carr – a shooting guard for Notre Dame – scored 61 points in a first-round game against Ohio. This record for most points scored in a game has yet to be beaten.
  • Like many American institutions, some NCAA teams refused to integrate until well into the 1960s. In 1966, Texas Western (UTEP) became the first team with an all-black starting line-up to win the championship. They beat Kentucky, whose coach allegedly asked newspapers to put an asterisk by white players’ names so he’d know whom to recruit.
  • At the end of each season, the NCAA’s selection committee announces its seeds: teams that have ranked high enough to be strategically “planted” on the bracket. Teams are seeded in one of 16 groups, with number 1 seeds ranking the highest. Number 1 seeds are typically arranged so that they won’t play each other until later in the tournament.
  • Number 16 seeds have lost all 112 times they’ve been matched against a Number 1 seed.
  • 2008’s March Madness was the only one of its kind to see all four Number 1 seeds – Kansas, UCLA, Memphis, and North Carolina – advance to the Final Four.
  • In 1985, Villanova – a Number 8 seed – became the lowest seed to win the whole tournament. Only three Number 11 seeds (LSU in ’86, George Mason in ’06, and VCU in ’11) have ever made it to the Final Four.
  • President Barack Obama is a known sports fan and regularly fills out a March Madness bracket with his predictions. In 2009, he correctly predicted the tournament champion: North Carolina.

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Irish in America

By @ 03/17/15 in Blog

America is a nation built on the dream of immigrants, where almost every US citizen can trace his or her roots back to someone who came here from distant shores less than 200 years ago. From early colonists and people brought here against their will – to political refugees and hopeful idealists – American citizens created a “melting pot” in the New World.

During the late 19th century, one of the largest groups to flock to our shores was the Irish. Thanks to overpopulation, religious persecution against Catholics by a Protestant Church, and political subordination, the Irish began to abandon their Emerald Isle in the 1820s, sailing for a more open, prosperous America. Between 1820 and 1860, it’s estimated that they represented anywhere between a third and a half of all immigrants. Most settled in New England, diversifying the once homogenous region.

A great push to emigration from Ireland came in the Great Famine of 1845. Disease wiped out many crops in the country, affecting most notably the potato – a staple to the Irish peasants’ diet. Millions died of starvation, while others swiftly left for more fertile lands in America.

Here, the Irish benefited during a booming Industrial Age, finding gainful employment in growing infrastructure and burgeoning cities. They laid railroad tracks and built canals. They filled factories, manufacturing affordable, mass-made products like textiles. As cities began to grow, the Irish were often the first to fill newly created municipal jobs, becoming firefighters, policemen, and streetcar drivers. Their hard work paid off, and in time, their children became leaders in their industries, filling managerial and foreman positions.

Millions of Irish people continued to emigrate to America throughout the 19th century, but by the turn of the century – when immigrants were flooding America’s shores from almost every corner of the globe – Irish immigration began to dwindle. Still, the first immigrant to be processed at Ellis Island was Annie Moore, a teenage girl from County Cork, Ireland. Culturally, the Irish held fast to their traditions, building their own communities that were largely focused on the Catholic Church. They shared their culture largely through the theater: in their homeland and here audiences enjoyed pieces from playwrights like Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Eugene O’Neill, and W.B. Yeats.

According to a survey conducted by the US Census Bureau in 2008, it is estimated that almost 11% of our population can trace roots back to Ireland. Irish descendants play prominent roles in American politics; in 1960, the nation elected John F. Kennedy as the first Catholic, Irish American president. We honor Irish heritage every year during St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that commemorates a missionary and one of the patron saints of Ireland. The holiday calls us to don green, celebrate Celtic culture, and feel the spirit and luck of the Irish.

Erin Go Bragh!

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