By Madeline Papcun
I’ll be the first to admit I have never had much of an interest in sports.
I don’t think of this lack of interest as a bad thing. In fact, its origins are very neutral — I just did not grow up in a sports-oriented environment and therefore do not have much knowledge on the subject. For instance, my dad only started following football after my sister and I left for college. We didn’t spend Sundays huddled around the television screen, rooting for one team over another. As for myself, I was a dancer for about 15 years, which never left time for competitive team sports.
When I committed to the University of Connecticut, my mom warned me that she would be upset if I graduated from the Basketball Capital of the World never having attended a game. I waved her off, saying something to the effect of “Yeah I’m sure I’ll go at some point; I’ve got four whole years.”
Of course, I started my freshman year in the fall of 2020 virtually, from my childhood bedroom due to the pandemic, so that was a wash. Finally moving on campus sophomore year, I had enough trouble navigating the campus, fraught with complicated social relationships and overwhelming academic responsibilities that took up all my time, I still never found myself at a game. It wasn’t anywhere near the top of my list of priorities, even working at the student-run newspaper. I read and copyedited the basketball coverage, without ever having been to Gampel Pavilion.
Finally, junior year. I can’t say something deep within me changed this year, making me suddenly want to attend basketball games. Sure, some part of me remembered my mother’s looming threat and the ticking clock it came with — I know I’m not the only college student to just do something to make their mother happy. But an opportunity to attend a game with some new friends arose and, finally, I went.
I certainly had some underlying feelings of anxiety about going. My new friends were very interested in sports. They could make jokes based off of the most niche sports references and end up doubled over laughing about it — jokes that I couldn’t even attempt to retell here due to my lack of background on the subject — whereas I didn’t even know the rules to basketball. Nevertheless, they took pity and brought me to a game, even though I knew nothing, and… drum roll please…
Nope. Nothing. I didn’t become the world’s biggest basketball fan overnight. Come to think of it, I’ve been to a few games now, and I still don’t think I know the rules of basketball. At this point, I can follow the ball, and know the general procedure, but I certainly can’t tell if a referee made a good call or not, and strategy is way beyond my comprehension level.
But that isn’t really the point of all this. It’s good to try new things. It’s not that I tried going to a basketball game and now I love basketball. It’s that I tried going to a basketball game and now I have a new way of bonding and spending time with the important people in my life. And even if I don’t understand the game — learning comes very slowly amid all the hubbub of the Basketball Capital of the World — I still get something out of it. Ever the people-watcher, I pay attention to how the coaches interact. I evaluate if the opposing team seems friendly or mean, and if they’re intimidated by all the fanfare or unfazed. I wonder about how long the referees have been in this career field, and what led up to them working like this. Thus, even as a non-fan, there’s something in it for everyone. You just have to look for it.
Reach Madeline Papcun at firstname.lastname@example.org.