My best friend from high school goes to UNC, and last year she
called me from a noisy and celebratory Franklin Street, where throngs
of students in powder blue had gathered in the wake of the Tar Heels’
fifth national championship. When she saw Roy Williams out running
around campus, she rolled down her window and screamed at him, and Ol’
Roy fired back with a smile and a thumbs-up.
There’s something about March Madness that makes it maddening
to be left out of it. Across town, Boston College is the experts’
favorite to take down Villanova and punch a ticket to the Final Four in
Indianapolis. Even Belmont snuck in with a No. 15 seed. Dartmouth will
take on Rutgers on the women’s side, and BC’s women grabbed a No. 8
But here at Harvard, the closest we’ll ever get to the Final
Four is this April, when Boston hosts the 2006 Women’s Final Four. Our
campus is bereft of painted faces and “villes” named after our coaches,
without the sobriquets given to the raucous student section at Cameron
As March Madness comes and goes without a Crimson tint to it,
Harvard’s athletic prowess looms elsewhere—and it’s up to us to seek it
Everybody knows about Harvard-Yale, Penn-Princeton weekend,
and Cornell’s annual trip to the Bright Center. Those are yawners for
Duke fans who spent Christmas Break sleeping in a tent in
We of the campus of 42 varsity sports need to get a little
more creative. And with a little guidance and a container or two of
face paint, it’s not that hard to do. The lights are out at Lavietes
Pavilion, but there’s plenty going on here before and after the last
whistle of the NCAA tournament.
This week, the Harvard men’s and women’s fencing teams are
competing at the NCAA Championships in Houston—and both have a
legitimate shot at a national title. They’re not televised on CBS, but
rumor has it that Harvard’s fencers are pretty good. The teams boast
two Junior World Champions, and three Crimson fencers will compete in
April’s Junior World Championships in South Korea. The women rank in at
No. 3 nationally; the men are No. 4.
Any Harvard student who bemoans the dearth of big-time
championships should spend a day watching the fencing team in action.
One, it’s the only team on campus whose members can say, “I have to get
my weapons checked,” and they’re not lying or planning a late-night
robbery on JFK.
The setup of the fencing room at the MAC—a long, narrow space
that features simultaneous bouts with different weapons—makes for the
ultimate, and often the extreme, spectator sport. Fans line up along
the walls, mere inches away from the action; in particularly aggressive
bouts, fans must lean into the wall to avoid, well, getting hurt. In
this the year of the men’s first ever outright Ivy League title, they
offer the “automatic tournament berth” neither basketball team could
muster this season.
And in precious few weeks, the Harvard and Radcliffe rowing
teams begin another illustrious season, one full of expectations and
built upon past achievement.
In the past three seasons, the men’s heavyweight, men’s
lightweight, and women’s heavyweight programs have all claimed national
titles. The men’s heavies pulled off a three-peat last season.
Their work is done early, as races often start before sunrise
and end in the mist of the young morning. But the 2,000 meter race
course on the Charles, bisected by the Mass. Ave. Bridge, is home to
some of the most fanatical fans on the Harvard campus. Crowds show up
by 7:30 a.m. on race day, and particularly intense spectators ride
alongside the races on their bicycles. Crimson signs float from the
Mass. Ave. Bridge. Throngs sit poised at the finish line to begin
screaming as soon as boats come into view.
And more often than not, they’re screaming for a good reason:
the men’s heavyweights have been perfect in dual competition for three
years, and the lightweights lost just once last year. The NCAA
basketball champion wins six consecutive games to take home a title;
the Harvard heavyweights have won 24 straight races.
Those who arise early to watch Harvard crew races are seldom disappointed.
So in the absence of buzzer beaters, Dick Vitale (seriously,
who’s missing him?), and bracket busters, fill out your bracket, but
don’t lament our near-annual diss from the Big Dance.
As a particularly raucous group of men’s volleyball
fans—equipped with a bongo drum, face paint, and a host of articulate
insults for the opponent—demonstrated at a recent home game, sometimes
you must make your own magic.
—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.