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A Sunday morning miracle: Cinderella ACU earns its glass slipper just after midnight

In David-and-Goliath matchup, two Joes — Golding and Pleasant — make a big difference for the underdogs.

INDIANAPOLIS — David defeated Goliath. Again.

It’s a March Miracle.

The semi-biblical allusions found on social media and in headlines nationwide still don’t do the game justice. One of my Facebook friends reported that her small-town Texas Church of Christ ended the service this morning with “Go Wildcats!”

Football is often called a religion in Texas. Basketball not so much.

But when 14-seed Abilene Christian University beat the 3-seed Texas Longhorns, 53-52, early Sunday morning in round one of the men’s NCAA basketball championship tournament, I was in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium, screaming, chanting and at one point retrieving my purple-framed glasses from the floor when they were knocked off by the frenzied fan next to me.

I know those athletes in burnt orange are just kids, too. I know their mommas cried. But I’ve watched a lot of bad ACU basketball in the last 40 years and, to be fair, some really good seasons as well. And I confess to selfishly relishing every single second of my Wildcats’ first-ever March Madness win.

Being fully vaccinated has been an answered prayer. That’s no allusion. It’s a fact. 

My son is a high school basketball coach. When he was 8, 9 and 10 years old, he was the ACU ball boy who wiped sweat from the Moody Coliseum floor with a dingy white towel during games. During half-time he dribbled and shot threes by himself, oblivious to the usually sparse crowds in the stands. 

We are big fans. That, too, is fact.

Cheryl Mann Bacon, at left, with her Michael and daughter-in-law Sarah at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Cheryl Mann Bacon, at left, with her son, Michael, and daughter-in-law, Sarah, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

So when faced with the most common conversation starter of 2021 — “What will you do when you get your second shot?” — the answer was an easy one for me.

“Go to a basketball game in person!”

Last week I realized I’d made that statement in the presence of Bradley Steele, the young minister at the University Church of Christ in Abilene, whom I love and admire.  

That was awkward.

Quickly, I explained, “I’ve really enjoyed church online, but basketball on an iPhone just doesn’t translate as well.”

Bradley’s a good guy. And he knows I’m a little crazy. He laughed.

Basketball is an up-close-and-personal experience for fans. You’re close enough to see players’ faces. Near enough to hear the sneakers squeak, the bones hit the floor or the clank of a brick shot on the rim. Basketball coaches are notoriously criticized for shouting on the sidelines. You think managers never shout in the dugout or football coaches never shout into their headsets?

COVID-19 protocols have placed fans a bit farther from the floor than usual during tournament games so we couldn’t always hear ACU coach Joe Golding’s animated admonitions. But we could see them, in person and on the big screen above us. We could see junior Joe Pleasant take a deep breath before sinking each of the two free throws that would seal ACU’s 1-point victory with 1.3 seconds left on the clock.

I don’t think God made us win. I don’t think he cares too much about who wins. I’m a little crazy but not totally without perspective. During the same week ACU won the conference tournament,  ACU and all of Abilene mourned the loss of a young father in a tragic car crash. A colleague of many years died in hospice care. A shooting rampage left eight people dead in Atlanta. Those are just the tragedies we know about. I know God cares a lot more about those losses than the kind that show up on scoreboards. I know.

The scoreboard at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis shows ACU coach Joe Golding celebrating his team's 53-52 upset of Texas.

The scoreboard at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis shows ACU coach Joe Golding celebrating his team’s 53-52 upset of Texas.

But I also know life should be lived abundantly. And in my family that includes basketball. So my favorite ball boy, his wife and I got up well before dawn Saturday to catch early flights to Indianapolis to watch a basketball game.

The late John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach, was as well known for his motivational quotes as his 10 national championships. “Make each day your masterpiece,” he once said. 

We did. Joe Golding did. Joe Pleasant and the rest of the Wildcats did. And Monday night they face UCLA in round two. And yes, I plan to be there.

CHERYL MANN BACON is a Christian Chronicle correspondent who served for 20 years as chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Abilene Christian University. In retirement, she is enjoying freelance writing and consulting, especially with churches. Contact her at [email protected].

Filed under: Abilene Christian University ACU Wildcats basketball COVID-19 Indianapolis March Madness National Partners Texas Longhorns Top Stories

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