It’s just a basketball game. Well, it’s a bit more than that. It’s the NCAA tournament, the big dance. The goal of all university teams in the country. It’s March Madness, a more apt name than basketball fans can ever imagine.
Sports fans from all over the country are filling their parentheses. Some do it for the love of the game. Some do it as a form of gambling, a modern game of chance. Yet others have no idea how to fill a slice, less must know how to keep up with the frantic tournament that is the NCAA’s cash cow.
I follow the Auburn Tigers basketball team, as well as many other sports. I haven’t jumped on the bandwagon lately. I followed the Tigers when there wasn’t much to cheer about. You won’t find me on a Facebook site publicly denigrating a teenager’s poor play after an intense game. You won’t hear me guessing the coaches.
Collegiate sports give me the opportunity to follow a university that I attended and continue to love. Not because of their sports, but because of how Auburn impacted and influenced my life. I’m as competitive as any other college alumnus, but I don’t have to win at all costs.
I also shoot for the Georgia Bulldogs because my brother played football there and my sister chose to go to school in Athens. I shoot for Alabama because my nephew currently plays for their golf team. I prefer Florida State because I have a son-in-law who was Seminole. I’m even Indiana because one of my daughters went to college in Burlington. My other daughter attended Washington & Lee, where I loved watching Division III athletes play hard for no other reason than their personal love of the game.
But my wife and I are Auburn fans and enjoy following their teams wherever this journey may take us. Last weekend he took us to Greenville, South Carolina, a city we hadn’t visited in several decades. Even then, we were just passing through.
Outside of our unexpected second-round loss to the University of Miami, our biggest upset was the town of Greenville. It’s hard to describe the incredible work this city has done to develop the downtown core of this mid-sized city. I wasn’t expecting where we were going, but that doesn’t explain how blown away I was by this city.
Communities often talk about revitalizing their downtown. There are often endless blueprints. Things get bogged down and drag on. Private funding and public funding are sometimes at odds. I have some experience in this area and understand the challenges of making an old downtown become new and vibrant.
However, for any city that has ever dreamed of revitalizing an old downtown, they should visit Greenville. Hotels, restaurants, interesting shops located in historic buildings; they had everything. The rooftop bars overlooked the streets full of people enjoying the lively atmosphere.
The spectacular architecture blended modern buildings with thoughtful restorations of old classic structures. Wide streets with sidewalks wide enough to accommodate street seating for restaurants were lined with beautiful mature trees.
Add an incredible 22-mile trail along the Reedy River that winds through small and large parks and you have an urban paradise. The fact that there is a beautiful waterfall a few blocks from downtown is just the icing on the cake.
Mary Lou and I walk with our teams because we want to support them. But we also like to travel to places we would otherwise never have reason to visit. We are often surrounded by like-minded friends, following a team that we all support. It’s a great atmosphere no matter where you are.
But sometimes you land somewhere that exceeds your expectations so much that you know you want to come back. Not necessarily with your team, but just to visit. Greenville, South Carolina is such a place. We will come back.
Despite a disappointing loss in the NCAA Tournament, we found ourselves coming away with a smile. We had more fun than expected. Thank you, Greenville, for being such great hosts, and congratulations on what you’ve done to make your small town a worthy destination.
For this Auburn fan, your city was the silver lining of our visit.