Sports column by Peter Lindholm: Growing up with Middlebury hoops: Tigers, Panthers
Editor’s note: This week’s sports columnist is Peter Lindholm, whose dad, Karl, usually occupies this space. Peter spent this fall with his family in Cameroon, West Africa, and is now in his first week of classes at Middlebury College. He graduated from Middlebury Union High School last spring.
The first Middlebury College basketball game I ever went to, I only saw five minutes of the action. I was a bookish eight-year old — in fact, maybe the most obviously unathletic eight-year-old in the state. Harry Potter book in hand, I had been dragged to the game by my dad, an alumnus and huge fan.
Looking back, I can see he just wanted me to share in his passion for the team, but I wasn’t there yet. I followed his motions in preparing for the game, standing for the national anthem, clapping during the starting lineups, clapping with more enthusiasm when the loud, bearded guy announcing the lineups raised his voice. Then the game started, and I was finally able to read Harry Potter uninterrupted.
Five minutes passed, and Harry was just about to come face to face with the infamous Sirius Black, when the timeout buzzer sounded. The sound jolted me out of my reverie like a Stunning Spell, and reverberated in my head, making further focus difficult. Fed up, I took my book and stormed off to Lawson Lounge, favoring the peace and quiet and leaving the game to continue without me.
My attitude about Middlebury basketball did eventually change, but not right away. I went to several more games, enough to get me through the third, fourth and fifth Harry Potter books. My dad tried several times to interest me in the game, but, as tends to be the case, it was my mom who finally did the trick. She basically marched me at gunpoint to sign up for intramural basketball in middle school, which doubled as the tryouts for the travel team.
Once I was playing the game, I fell in love immediately. Not because of any great skill, trust me. “Average” would still be a great compliment to my skills on the court. No, I fell in love with basketball’s flow. Basketball is a liquid game, one play flows into the next seamlessly, and the movement is constant. When it is played well, it seems like each player is tied to the other with a rope and depends on teammates to move the unit. I finally began to understand what my dad saw at Middlebury games.
To my complete shock, I made the travel team out of those intramurals, and there began my relationship with Middlebury basketball, both high school and college. On the travel team, I met my teammates, who remain to this day my best friends. We were able to keep that core group together as we advanced through Middlebury’s basketball ranks, getting separated briefly in the JV and varsity schism, but reunited by my junior year. We were able to grow together, both as players and as people, and that was the main reason for our success as a team.
Another huge contributor to our basketball education was Middlebury College basketball. I don’t know what I did to deserve such a great formative basketball experience, but to have Middlebury College become a dominant team in Division III as soon as I became interested in basketball was nothing short of a blessing. From eighth grade until Christmas break of this year, my teammates and I went to the vast majority of home games at Pepin Gym, soaking up all we could.
We watched how those Panther teams seemed to be all one player at times, each cut pulling the string for another player to fill his spot. They played hard, together, and with a passion that was visible to even our immature basketball minds. We were also big fans of Andrew Locke swatting balls into the fifth row.
At halftime we played vigorous games of three-on-three in Nelson Arena, adjacent to the gym, with an intensity that rivaled any of our school practices. Whenever someone would conjure a shot out of thin air and make it, we’d call out, “Hey, is that Ben Rudin?”
Those college games were woven into our formative years. The scrimmages in Nelson got better and better, and we did too. Soon we were driving ourselves to games, both home and away, and cheering in the fan sections, previously a not-feared-but-respected domain of college students.
The best road trip my friends and I ever took was down to Williamstown with my dad, to see Middlebury beat Williams and Amherst back to back to win the NESCAC championship. And the second best was when the same crew drove down to Amherst to watch Middlebury lose in overtime on a deep three by Taylor “Bleeping” Barrisse. As my dad says, “The best thing in sports is winning. The second best thing is losing.”
Today my teammates and I are spread across the country, from Elon in North Carolina to Drexel in Pennsylvania to nearby Poultney. Our college allegiances have shifted to fit our respective schools, but I like to think that the Middlebury Panthers will always hold a place in our hearts as the team that first taught us how basketball can and should be played.
As for Harry Potter, I still make time for that inspiring tale of camaraderie and perseverance. Just not during the inspiring tale that is set in Pepin Gymnasium.
Mark A. Nelson of Bristol
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