FORT WAYNE – Madness! Madness!
– James Donald
"Bridge On The River Kwai"
So, OK, then. Here's your Madness.
Here's this little guy tricked out in a miniature royal blue IPFW Mastodons jersey – it's No. 14, and the little guy is the son of Mastodons assistant coach Jon Coffman – and here's a basketball. It's the size of Jupiter, in his tiny hands. But God bless him, the little guy is game.
And so he picks it up, he dribbles it once, he dribbles it twice … oops, there it goes, rolling across the floor toward assistant coach John Peckinpaugh, who gently flips it back to him, then drops into a defensive stance.
And this is your signature moment, sort of, on this October night. The curtain is going up on college basketball again, and so, yeah, you'd better D-up. You'd better put the ball on the floor. You'd better …
Oops, there goes young Tommy Coffman again, chasing the ball as it rolls off toward the sideline, having masterfully eluded Peckinpaugh's glove-like defense.
All around them now, the fans are starting to stream in for Mastodon Madness, IPFW's version of the gala kickoff many college programs have adopted these days. There'll be something north of 500 of them before they're finished arriving, and one side of the Gates Center gym will be all but full.
Next door, meanwhile, the line for free hotdogs and chips stretched across the floor of the fieldhouse, out the door and well down the hall.
"Form two lines!" shouted golf coach Billy King, who was playing traffic cop in his uniform for the night: A blue golf shirt and a pair of shout-out-loud silver-blue-and-white pants done up in an oversized diamond pattern.
"Unbelievable," he tells a visitor. "At 5:45, we had 100 people waiting to get in."
And now it's 6:30, and the place is starting to jump. Pretty soon the lights will go down and the band will play and the teams will emerge like wraiths through the haze from a smoke machine.
There will be a three-point shooting contest between Amanda Hyde from the women's team and Luis Jacobo from the men's team. There will be a dunk contest and a couple of team three-point contests featuring a player from the men's team, a player from the women's team, a student and a fan. There will be team introductions and videoboard displays and the giddy optimism you always hope to see in late October.
"It is kind of a fun way to kick off college basketball," says men's coach Tony Jasick, whose team opens the season Nov. 9.
"Our aim is just to put on a show, get our fan base up where it needs to be and just have fun," Jacobo says.
"It just kind of makes you realize how close the season actually is," Haley Seibert from the women's team says.
Her coach agrees.
"I think what this does is it makes it real," says Chris Paul, whose team opens the season Nov. 8. "You've been talking about it, you've been talking about it, you've been practicing, but I think now all of a sudden you come out here and the people are coming out here and you're putting the practice gear on; … I think it just makes things real."
And now you look out on the floor again, as 6:30 comes and goes and the hour lurches toward 7. Tommy Coffman is still out there, tuckered out for the time being. He sits quietly on the floor, just about center court, staring blankly.
Cradled in his arms, big as Jupiter, is a basketball.