by David Sisler

March Madness ended on Monday night. At least for this year. Be honest now, how many of you picked Utah to play for the national championship? I had Duke to win it all, but Kentucky had other plans. Kentucky's second half comeback was their third straight of the tournament, the third straight year they were in the championship game, and the third straight year that they ended Utah's season in the NCAA tournament.

I confess: when a sport is played with a round object, I think it should be a baseball. But I must admit that there is something extraordinary about the way fans get into college hoops. Understanding the fanaticism of the NCAA tournament, however, what is it about college basketball, that would make a student in Durham, NC, sleep in a tent for six weeks just to get a ticket to a regular season game?

Sometime after Christmas, 100 tents popped up just outside Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Duke Blue Devils play their home games. Some of the tents were simple camping types. Others were elaborate affairs with couches, mattresses and most of the comforts of home. Up to fifteen students registered as temporary residents in those canvas cottages, so they could be among the handful of undergraduates who secured tickets for the last home game before the playoffs began.

That game between Duke, and its fiercest rival, the University of North Carolina, had places for only 9,314 student bodies. There are only 1,500 seats reserved for the 6,500 undergraduates. The kids can get in free, if they get a ticket, but their chances are admittedly slim. Hence, the tent city.

The student government established rules for this phenomena which is not new on campus this year. Tents must be occupied constantly 24 hours a day, seven days a week by at least one of the students registered for that tent. Only those registered may hold the fort, and, unlike the sport which attracts them, there is no free substitution. If a random check finds a tent unoccupied, a warning is issued. If no one is home on a second check, that tent is moved to the end of the line. Total occupancy, from sundown to sunup, is required for the last two days before the game.

For the campers, the chance to see their Blue Devils try to avenge an earlier 97-73 loss to North Carolina, was all that mattered. No one complained about the rain, the mud, and the cold, when Roshown McLeod hit a driving layup with one minute remaining to give Duke its only lead of the game, and a 77-75 come-from-behind win.

The Rev. William Willimon, the dean of the Duke University Chapel, told the student newspaper, "I think I'm jealous that no Duke students camp out all night to hear any of my sermons."

I have never heard Dean Willimon preach, so with every respect for his pulpit abilities, probably every other preacher, preaching today, could echo his complaint with a begrudging, "Amen!"

Twenty years ago I was a member of one of the oldest Pentecostal churches in the movement. The building where the church met could seat approximately 2000 worshipers, if you counted the balcony and the over-flow rooms.

Our regular Wednesday night Bible teacher was one of the greatest preachers I have ever heard. With a skill in expository preaching that is sadly lacking in most modern pulpits, he weekly opened the Bible and gave us practical lessons for daily living. The regular crowd averaged 300- 400. I remember one Wednesday when we had a guest speaker a former gang leader, converted to faith in Jesus Christ and it was standing room only. Five times as many people came to hear Nicky Cruise tell us how bad he had been, than every came to hear F. J. May tell us how good Jesus is! And that was not the fault of Nicky Cruise. It certainly was not the fault of Joe May.

No one stands in line over night to get a front row seat in church.

Is that because no preacher has anything to say? Of course not. There are great sermons being preached from pulpits Sunday after Sunday, and empty seats hear most of the words.

Or is it because we no longer have an appetite for God's Word? If we are more excited by a slam dunk, or a three-point shot at the buzzer than we are by the proclamation of God's encouraging Word, in simplicity and in power, for our time (to borrow a phrase from Ben Haden, the pastor of a church where the only empty seat is the one he just left), then we are excited about the wrong things.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 4/4/98

Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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