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Peace in the madness

By Thurman Hayes

The calendar has turned to April, but for the past few weeks, college basketball fans have come down with a case of “March Madness.”

Few events in sports carry the drama of the NCAA tournament. Last year, for University of Virginia fans, March Madness was cut tragically short, when UVA, the overall No. 1 seed in the entire 2018 field, was defeated by a No. 16 seed, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. That school was the lowest overall seed in the 2018 tournament, and they came out in the first round and beat Virginia by 20 points — the first time a No. 16 seed has ever defeated a No. 1, in the history of the NCAA tournament.

When you are the No. 1 seed and you lose to a 16, with the word “County” in the school name … that’s a humiliating upset.

Of course, the critics piled on. They said UVA’s coach, Tony Bennett, could not win in March. They said his game was geared to excellence in the regular season, but doomed to failure in tournament play. For those who really follow the game, these criticisms were hogwash. Tony Bennett is one of the very best coaches in the game, and has the track record to prove it. He has built UVA into a perennial powerhouse of college basketball, and is a man of great character and faith.

In the immediate aftermath of the defeat last year, Coach Bennett handled things, as usual, with grace and class. But what is really interesting is how he and his players have handled the defeat since then. Rather than get angry about the repeated and inevitable questions about the loss, Coach Bennett and his players leaned into it. They stared down their demons and freely answered questions, often speaking of what they had learned through the experience.

Coach Bennett himself says, “Where does peace and perspective come from? I always tell our guys it’s got to be something that is unconditional, and I know that I have that in my family. Unconditional acceptance and love. That’s huge. And I know I have that in my faith in Christ. That’s, for me, where I draw my strength from, my peace, my steadiness in the midst of things. But, of course you feel things. Of course you desperately want things to go well, and it’s frustrating when you’re not. You step back and look at it. I always challenge our guys, what’s your secret of contentment? So going through those refining moments, they’re tough, but you look back at them, and in a way, they’re sometimes painful gifts that draw you near to what truly matters.”

There’s a coach who understands what truly matters!

I don’t know how UVA will do in the Final Four, which begins tomorrow night. On Monday night, the University of Virginia could be hearing “One Shining Moment” played for them as the tournament champions, or they could be dejected by a loss. But in a far more significant way, they have already won.

 

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr. is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.