Web Exclusives: Raising Kate

a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)


April 7, 2004:

Basketball once more
It’s never too late to enjoy a game, even if your thesis is due

This spring break saw me at home, in Columbia, Missouri. I worked on my thesis in front of the television, setting up camp in the old green leather chair whose left armrest is cracked from years of wear, and filled the living room with Firestone books — my suitcase weighed in at 57 pounds when I checked it at Newark. My mother fed me cookies — big, blonde-frosted things, each garnished with a salty cashew. My father wondered aloud — many times — just how productive I could be with the television set tuned to MTV. I wondered, privately, how long my metabolism could hold up under the strain of the cashew cookies before I would be transformed from a sturdy Midwestern farm girl into, well, a very sturdy Midwestern farm girl.

Four days into break, my adviser sent me an e-mail: “My dear Kate, Al-sabr jamil. I am waiting patiently. Your sr. thesis advisor.” “Al-sabr jamil” is an Arabic saying that means “patience is beautiful.” My thesis is due May 3; he will have to be patient a while longer — for now, there is basketball to watch.

This spring break did not see the Mizzou Tigers — the men’s team, at least — go to the Big Dance. Mizzou floundered in the regular season, losing to Texas Tech, and to Kansas despite the fact that the game was the last to be played in Hearnes Stadium, that it was senior night, that it was a home game. Subsequently Mizzou lost to Kansas again, this time in the Big Twelve Tournament, and Coach Quin Snyder said in the postgame interview that there was no shame in going to the N.I.T. Spring break saw the Missouri Tigers — the team that was ranked number three in the country early in the preseason polls — lose in the first round of the N.I.T. to Michigan.

The fans were not happy. In Columbia we have something called TigerBoard, a website run by a Tiger fan named Nick. For a long time the main attraction on the site was the “Smack Board,” where posters made hilarious and vulgar comments about the basketball team, about Coach Snyder and his Armani suits, and most of all about the University of Kansas. Following Mizzou’s inglorious season, TigerBoard filled up quickly with the effluvia of black-and-gold rage, a state of affairs that led Nick to permanently disable the Smack Board and to lay out some new rules:

“I’m tired of this board being referred to a cesspool, so these changes will take effect immediately:

1) No negative handles will be allowed. No more quinisawful, mizzousucks, or whatever. I will go through all 11,000+ handles and anyone with a negative handle will be suspended until the year 2020. If you have a negative handle and wish to change it to something neutral, TBIM me and I will make the change for you. This goes for ALL handles, not just those negative toward Mizzou or Mizzou personnel.

2) No negative rumors ever. I don’t care if you witness the event or how you get the information. If you post anything negative that isn’t posted on a legit news site, then you will be suspended.

3) No excessive negativity. I don’t care if you want to post why you think Quin should be let go as long as you do it in a respectful and civil manner. If I think you are being excessively negative, I will suspend you.

5) You will respect the other posters on the board. I’ve asked you all to be civil, now I am making you. The personal attacks will stop now. Anyone who attacks another poster will be suspended for a week. The second time will get you a month. Third time and you are gone. I don’t care if the poster is a KU fan, you will respect him.”

My dad, who respects no KU fan, wore his Princeton baseball cap around town and told his friends that at least one Tiger team was going on.

On Thursday night my parents and I watched the Princeton-Texas game at the Big Twelve Bar and Grill, formerly the Big Ass Bar and Grill, before the good citizens of Columbia complained and the name was changed. My parents, who resent the inclusion of the Texas universities in the conference, find the new name more offensive than the old one. That Princeton would be playing a Texas team in the first round of the NCAA bracket made the stakes higher. The chances the No. 14 seeded Tigers would pull it off were low, but we were hoping anyway.

We ate grilled cheese sandwiches and nachos and every time Princeton did something good, Dad would shout “All right, Princeton!” and Mom would say, “Ssssshhh, Jim!” and look semi-fearfully at the big table to the right of us, at a group of dodgy-looking people who had undoubtedly picked Texas to go on. Whenever Texas did something good, Dad would say “Yeah, but he’s a general studies major,” or “Those must be Texas refs.”

For the first half of the game, we did pretty well. Then size started to matter, and the Longhorns caught up. Texas started hitting their long-range shots in the second half, overwhelming Princeton and coming away with a 66-49 victory.

I thought I had heard the last of the Tigers, but that wasn’t the case. On Friday, my dermatologist, midway through prescribing a steroidal cream for a nasty outbreak of eczema on the top of my feet, told me that he had watched the Princeton game. His son goes to Duke, and for the last two years he has camped out in a tent so as to be first in line to buy Blue Devils tickets for the NCAA tournament. His attempt at a third consecutive year was spoiled when he fell down and knocked out all his teeth and had to get oral surgery when ticket-buying time came around.

Sounds crazy, I thought. Then I got back to Princeton and read in the Prince that a colleague of mine from freshman-year geology, Cullen Newton ’04, had traveled with a group of friends to watch the Princeton-Texas game in Colorado. Throughout the game Newton had brandished a large white Princeton banner, his only article of luggage. No 57-pound suitcase for him; evidently he is another practitioner of the “Al-sabr jamil” style of thesis writing.


You can reach Kate at kswearen@princeton.edu