A tradition unlike most others

If you watch sports on TV, you’ve heard Jim Nance often say the Masters golf tournament is a tradition unlike any other. Maybe so, but some local and area college basketball fans have a tradition unlike most others.

Hank Wiebe, of Prudent Tours in Hillsboro, and several of his friends, traditionally attend one of the first-round sites of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in March.

Oddly, the tradition began after Wiebe and a friend attended the Final Four in New Orleans in 1987.

“In 1988, when I got home from work and turned on the (first-round) games, it occurred to me that the fans had been there the better part of the day and were getting to see four tournament games in one day,” said Wiebe.

Early in 1989, Wiebe and a few friends discussed attending the first-round games to see more basketball. A call to the NCAA offices ensued, because it was prior to the Internet. They learned that Dallas was the closest option.

“We went the first year and had a good time, and then just kind of kept going year after year,” said Wiebe. “No one had any idea that we would attend NCAA tournament games for more than 30 years.”

“We decided to get tickets, which cost us $60 total for six games that weekend,” said Wiebe. “Over the years, eight different guys have made the trip.“

Usually four or five men go to the games, but all eight attended the 30th trip to the tournament in 2018, which was again in Dallas.

“We had a streak of 31 years broken in 2020 by COVID said Wiebe. “In 2021 and 2022, instead of being in crowds, four of us picked a location to rent a house and watch the first weekend of games together. This year (in Des Moines, Iowa) marked our 32nd trip to the first- and second-round. Two of us have made it every year.”

The group never picks a site based on which teams might play, because that’s too difficult to predict in most cases. However, Wiebe notes that the group has seen KU three times, K-State twice and WSU three times.

“The best year for watching the Kansas teams was in 2014 when all three were in St. Louis,” said Wiebe. “We were lucky that year. It seemed to us for a while that Purdue and Syracuse were following us around. We saw them a combined 10 times in the first 20 years, and none of us were fans (of those teams).”

When they don’t have a favorite team to cheer for, they often root for the underdog.

“That is usually the sentiment in the arena generally, except for the fans that came to watch one team in particular,” said Wiebe. “Even when they report scores from other sites or show highlights, the biggest cheers are for the upset.”

On one occasion in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1993, the group got a good feel for the difference between the lower-tier teams and the blue bloods.

“As we walked away from the stadium between the first and second session on day one, we saw two vans quietly pull up, and the Rider University team got out,” said Wiebe. “As we continued to walk, we started hearing sirens and seeing flashing lights, and along came the Kentucky team in a large motorcoach amid a bunch of hoopla,” said Wiebe.

In all their years of attending first- and second-round games, Wiebe says they have seen three teams go on to win the National Championship—Duke in 1991, Arizona in 1997 and UConn in 1999.

When they first started attending games, they would pick a location based on what the area might hold for the off day between games to try some of the local attractions and food. But today, they simply pick a location they can drive to.

Still, Wiebe and his friends have taken some longer trips, including to Seattle, San Diego, and Miami. They have been to Dallas, Denver and Austin three times each.

Wiebe and his friends have supportive wives, but after about five years, the wives decided they should have their own getaway.

“In 1995, they started going on a long weekend ski trip in late January or early February,” said Wiebe. “This tradition lasted for about 25 years.”

As I said at the top, some traditions are unlike most others.

More from Joe Kleinsasser
Discipline dispensed in variety of ways for student-athletes
It may surprise you to know that my behavior during baseball practice...
Read More