Home for the ACC tourney

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 12, 2005

For half a century, early March always found Frank Schwal-enberg in the stands of the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament. But as Mary-land defends its title in 2004-05, he’ll be watching from home.

&uot;I’ve been going since 1954,&uot; the 83-year-old says in his River Crescent home. &uot;My good friend, (former senator) Fred Bateman had his office directly above mine (now semi-retired, Schwalenberg formerly owned his own Newport News insurance company), and he had been a manager at Wake Forest. He knew I was interested in basketball, so he got tickets.&uot;

A former high school and college official, Schwalenberg attended Apprentice and spent a year at William and Mary.


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The pair headed to the Reynolds Colisum in Raliegh, where they sat far back, nearly behind a pole that used to held up the ceiling of older courts.

&uot;It was popular then,&uot; he says, &uot;but not nearly as popular as it is now. It started off as the two of us, and it grew to about 25.&uot;

Over the next few decades, Schwalenberg watched one team after another move from the &uot;local&uot; league to the NCAA tournament, with nine of them taking home the national title. He went to Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and elsewhere to check out the games. He saw Lefty Driesell coach Len Bias at Maryland, and Bones McKinney lead Wake Forest.

&uot;This is the best basketball in the country,&uot; he says. &uot;It’s the Super Bowl of basketball. It’s better than the NCAA. I didn’t cheer for anyone in particular, I just saw good basketball.&uot;

Last year, Schwalenberg attended his 51st consecutive ACC tourney, watching the Terrapins slip past Duke to take the title. Then, in October, he suffered a stroke.

&uot;I’ve been very fortunate in getting well,&uot; he says. &uot;I’m not all the way back, but last week, I got rid of my cane. I still have distorted vision and I can’t drive.&uot;

For the first time since the mid-twentieth century, the father of two, grandfather of two, and great-grandfather of two more is home for the tourney. On Thursday, he watched Clemson beat Maryland in a game called by Billy Packer, whom Schwalenberg watched play for Wake Forest.

&uot;It’s hard to tell,&uot; he says when asked for his pick to win. &uot;I guess the favorites are North Carolina and Wake Forest.

&uot;This is better than not seeing it,&uot; he admits, &uot;but not as good as being there. It’s not like being a part of the crowd. But next year, I know I’ll get back if I’m still around!