One Last Cheer For The Oakland Yays

I do love March Madness, because the ONLY sure thing is that there WILL be some significant and unexpected upset and will allow the majority of American sports fans who aren’t quite as obsessed as, say, me to learn of the existence of a program and, to all of us, an education into the people who actually have been toiling in obscurity with a lot more integrity and class than many of the more prominent names and faces.

This March, the most surprising story of all has been a team from Oakland.  No, not the one that doesn’t get snow and also no longer has either an NFL or NBA franchise, and will soon lose its moribund major league baseball team too.  This is Oakland University in Michigan, just like there’s a Miami in Ohio and a Phoenix in New York (trust me, I’ve been there, and there ain’t no cactus within a thousand miles of it, and if one were brought in it would die of frostbite).

And on Thursday night, as a 14 seed, champs of the Horizon League, with only a play-in win nearly 20 years ago when they won a Summit League title as precedence, they pulled off an unexpected and delicious conquest of a far more storied program.  Per the Associated Press:

Jack Gohlke made 10 3-pointers and 14th-seeded Oakland delivered the first true shock of this year’s March Madness, beating third-seeded Kentucky 80-76 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.

The Grizzlies (24-11) sent the Wildcats (23-10) to another early March exit behind Gohlke, a graduate transfer who finished with 32 points, and some late shot-making by his teammates.

(T)he Wildcats and their roster stacked with NBA prospects spent most of the night trying — and failing — to chase down Gohlke.

The 6-foot-3 guard who came to the Grizzlies this season after playing for Division II Hillsdale College made 10 of 20 3-point attempts, seven in the first half. His only other points came after he was fouled — while attempting a 3.

Gohlke’s story was heartwarming, to be sure.  But his coach’s story was even more so.  And he’s THE reason I am so disappointed that the Grizzlies’ run came to an end last night with an overtime defeat to another double-digit seed, the more prominent North Carolina State Wolfpack.

As THE SPORTING NEWS’ Dan Treacy reported:

(N)o individual was perhaps more deserving of the moment than coach Greg Kampe, whose journey with the Golden Grizzlies started long before anyone on the court was born.  Kampe is in his 40th season at Oakland, and what better way to celebrate four decades than winning an NCAA Tournament game over one of the most recognizable brands in the sport?  While some coaches are superstitious, Kampe has been around long enough to simply be honest about the moment. He told reporters on Wednesday that a win would change his players’ lives, calling the tournament “one of the three greatest sporting events in the world” because of that opportunity. Mission accomplished.

But if that wasn’t enough, along the way, Kampe’s own life was changed, and, yep, the exact same thing happened to me.  As CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish penned in the summer of 2017:

Greg Kampe almost died last month.  He’s OK now, mostly. So don’t be alarmed. But he for real almost died last month — even if, at first, he just figured he was freezing inside the Riverview Park Activities Center like every other college coach at Nike’s Peach Jam. “I thought I was getting a cold because it’s so cold in the gym,” Oakland‘s basketball coach told me by phone.

It was Friday night, July 14, and Kampe wasn’t feeling well. But, again, he thought he had just caught a cold because it’s always ridiculously cold inside the facility. So the games ended that night and Kampe, like lots of coaches, decided to drive to Atlanta so he could spend Saturday at an Under Armour event. He got to Atlanta, went to sleep, woke up the next morning and felt even worse. But he still made it to the gym.

“So I’m watching the first game, and I can’t stand up,” Kampe said. “My assistant, Dan Hipsher, is there. And he sees me and says, ‘Are you alright? Because your face is yellow. You’re yellow.’ “

Yep, been there, felt that.  Along with this, as Parrish continued:

By the minute, he grew more uncomfortable. By the minute, he felt worse. But he eventually made it home, somehow. And that’s when the shaking started.  The best way to describe it is when a kid is 6 or 7, and he gets out of the pool, and he’s in a towel, and he’s just shaking,” Kampe said. “That’s what I was doing — uncontrollably shaking.”

Check and double check.  I felt that feeling alone in my office, having just packed up the last box in preparation for a move of offices, just before that became a moot point not just for me, weeks away from being let go, but the world, when COVID made the concept of offices a non-issue.  Parrish again:

While at the hospital, before everything was figured out, Kampe said he started convulsing. His temperature had risen to 106.7 degrees — the result of the stone that was inside his kidney and scheduled to be removed Aug. 1 becoming infected. The infection had spread throughout his kidney. Then the kidney started failing. And Kampe developed sepsis — a rare complication of an infection that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and … death.

“At my age, I was told, 80 percent of people who get sepsis die,” said Kampe, who is 61. “

I was mere months behind him.  And I felt the same exact symptoms.

But Kampe had a bigger megaphone that I did at that time.  And as explained why he went to Parrish with this tale:

“I’ve had several people come up to me and tell me their brother or father went through a similar thing but didn’t go to the hospital,” Kampe said. “They just went to bed and then never woke up. People, especially men, and especially men in athletics, always think their bodies are invincible. We always think we’ll just wake up tomorrow and feel better. But it’s important to go to the hospital. If I wouldn’t have gone to the hospital, I wouldn’t have made it. The only reason I’m still alive is because I went to the hospital.”

Ditto.

So I will continue to root for Greg Kampe and the Golden Grizzlies as long as both of us are around.  And if you ever get the kind of feelings or synptoms that he described, we’ll both be happy to remind you–if you take control of your life, things do get better.  Not right away.  But eventually.

See you next season, Coach.

Courage…

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