I Heart Iowans

I like to use humor when talking about Iowa. I-O-W-A. It’s the acronym for Idiots Out Wandering Around. The best thing to come out of Iowa is Interstate 35. Iowa is always too hot or too cold or too muggy. And there are certainly a lot of dead deer on the roadsides and dead bugs on my windshield whenever I am there. I even laughed at the most recent Rose Bowl game when someone held up a sign that said “Hawkeye Is The Least Favorite Avenger” in a game where the Hawkeyes were trounced by Stanford.

But the truth is I AM a native of the Hawkeye State. Born in Des Moines. A few years in Waterloo. A lot of years in Grundy Center, where I graduated high school. A couple of years in Marshalltown for my Associate of Arts degree. A few more at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls obtaining a Bachelor’s degree.

I lived in Iowa the first 23 years (exactly one half) of my life.

My family still lives in Iowa. My father and one sister in have homes in Grundy Center. My only brother and his family reside in Dike. My youngest sister and her family live in Hudson.

Even as I have moved on to Kansas City and now Las Vegas, Iowa will always be home.

My niece Brynn graduated from Dike-New Hartford High School last weekend.
My niece, Brynn, graduated from Dike-New Hartford High School last weekend.

I spent a few days in Iowa last week. It was a chance to see friends and family, and attend the graduation of my niece Brynn, who was one of the three valedictorians at Dike-New Hartford High School for 2016.

Those days reaffirmed to me the fabulousness that is Iowa.

With my 22-month old son Jace in tow, we enjoyed staying in a hotel not far from the Des Moines International airport. When Jace needed something that I failed to pack, he got in the stroller and we walked the 1 1/2 blocks to an older model Hy-Vee Food Store. Before we even left the hotel parking lot, the hotel’s valet driver commented, “You guys look like you are out enjoying the day.” He told us to “be safe” on our walk. Iowans are exceedingly nice people.

Although Hy-Vee has updated their stores throughout Iowa and Kansas City, this one was straight out of the 1970s. It had an old school meat counter, retro freezer doors in the frozen food aisles and angular aisles by the pharmacy. It was super cool.

At the hotel the young woman who cleaned the rooms chatted up Jace as we walked by every single day. She could not have been more pleasant working a thankless and demanding job.

At dinner, perfect strangers would say hello to Jace and ask him for high fives.

We spent a day with friends and a day with family, traveling from Des Moines to Grundy Center to Dike back to Grundy Center and back to Des Moines in one day.

On our final day we were scheduled to fly back to Las Vegas at 11:30AM. After dropping off the rental car, I had to walk across two streets with my suitcase, a stroller/car seat in a travel bag, a backpack and most importantly, Jace. My son was walking somewhat beside me, though he was drinking from his sippy cup and surveying the surroundings. Even at Jace’s pace, we made it across the first street easily as there was no traffic. The second street, however, was the one with all the passenger drop-offs and pick-ups. As we approached it a security guard in a safety vest saw us and quickly walked into the street. I don’t even think it was his station. There was no reason for a security guard to even be there. But he was there, holding up traffic so we could safely get into the airport.

Jace at the airport sporting his Mr. Cool tee and the TSA Junior Officer sticker he received.
Jace at the airport sporting his Mr. Cool tee and the TSA Junior Officer sticker he received.

What should have been a quick and painless flight home failed to materialize. Our plane had a mechanical problem that Southwest Airlines could not quickly fix. After boarding us and de-boarding us, the decided to fly an empty plane from Chicago to Des Moines to pick us up and take us to Las Vegas. The flight would be delayed 4 1/2 hours. We made the most of the time by visiting the gift shops, getting some lunch and Jace taking a nap in my lap in the gate area.

As it was getting closer to time to board, Jace and I sat on a bench and ate mini-muffins while waiting for the plane. During this time, four different complete strangers came up to us to commend Jace on how well-behaved he had been during the long delay. Jace never cried all day. He didn’t throw a fit. He didn’t even scream. He just hung out with his Daddy and waited for the next adventure to start.

It was nice of so many Iowans to notice us.

We don’t get back much to Iowa anymore. This trip was the second time in two years. For a single father of a toddler the trip is a daunting task. But it is nice to know when we go back we can always get a refresher on the greatness of Iowa.

And I can still make jokes. You know what University of Northern Iowa fans and University of Iowa fans have in common? None of them went to the Iowa.

The Kansas City Basketball Myth

In the 17 years I spent in Kansas City, most of which I worked in the fields of NCAA Division I sports, sportscasting and as a radio personality, I was brainwashed into the myth that Kansas City is THE basketball mecca.

Kansas City’s basketball resume is impressive:

Future NBA Coach and former Kansas City-Omaha Kings player Mike D'Antoni
Future NBA Coach and former Kansas City-Omaha Kings player Mike D’Antoni

Home to the NBA’s Kings from 1972-85.

Downtown’s Municipal Auditorium has hosted 9 Final Fours, while Kemper Arena in the West Bottoms hosted the 1988 Final Four.

The Big 8/Big 12 Conference Tournament has been played in Kansas City more times than any other city.

The NAIA National Tournament is played in Kansas City.

 

Legendary UCLA Coach John Wooden and then future LSU and NBA star Shaquille O’Neal.

 

The 1989 McDonald’s All-America game, featuring Kenny Anderson, Allan Houston, Bobby Hurley and some guy named Shaquille O’Neal was played at Kemper Arena.

In fact, Kansas City BELIEVES it is the home of basketball so much, there is this nugget on the VisitKC.com website:

CHAMPIONSHIP CITY

Each March, Kansas City hosts more college basketball tournament games than anywhere else in the country. In 2015, the whopping total comes to four tournaments, 58 teams and 54 games stretched across 14 days.

The above statement is a lie, but I will get to that in a minute.

Kansas City wants you to forget a few things about it’s basketball pedigree:

In the Kings’ final season in KC, and in the era of the NBA featuring “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird, Dr. J and the rookie season of Michael Jordan, the Kings averaged less than 4,000 fans per game and moved to…Sacramento. The California capital is only marginally bigger population-wise than Kansas City.

The main reason the Final Four was hosted in Kansas City so often was the NCAA National Office was located in Kansas City from 1952-99. All nine Municipal Auditorium Final Fours happened before 1964. The Final Four wouldn’t return to KC for 24 years.

The NCAA office left for greener pastures in Indianapolis.

The Big 8 became the Big 12 and moved from Kansas City to Irvine, Texas.

Kansas City was practically the last major U.S. city to have a Division I basketball team. Kansas City, the 37th biggest city in America didn’t have a Division I basketball team until 1985. That doesn’t compare very favorably to no. 41 Omaha (Creighton, 1917), no. 49 Wichita (Wichita State, 1906), no. 58 St. Louis (Saint Louis U, 1914) or no. 148 Springfield, Mo. (Missouri State, Division I since 1981).

Kansas City basketball history of departure and mediocrity. Kansas Citians will try to deflect this by saying that the University of Kansas is Kansas City’s basketball team. The University of Kansas is located in Lawrence, Kan., a short drive from the Kansas City metro area. In addition, the Jayhawks won the 1988 Final Four in Kansas City. Those same people not only have never looked at a map (Kansas City is in Missouri, Lawrence in Kansas) nor have a sense of history (the two States were on opposite sides of the American Civil War and still hold ill feelings toward one another 150 years after the last battle was fought).

Now to that erroneous statement from above. Kansas City is referring to:

The Division II MIAA Conference will have eight men’s teams and eight women’s team play seven games each March 5-8. The Big 12 men’s basketball tournament is next, where 10 teams will play nine games from March 11-14. Then 32 NAIA teams will play 31 games to determine their champion from March 18-24.

To sum up:

MIAA – 8 men’s teams/7 games

MIAA – 8 women’s teams/7 games

Big 12 – 10 men’s teams/9 games

NAIA – 32 men’s teams/31 games 

Total – 58 teams/54 games.

At least Kansas City’s math was correct. It’s the first sentence of the statement that is a bald-faced lie borne of Kansas City’s arrogance and ignorance.

Enter Las Vegas. One of the world’s most visited cities also happens to be a bigger March basketball draw than Kansas City.

Las Vegas’ basketball resume:

UNLV star Larry Johnson.
UNLV won the 1990 National Championship.

The University of Nevada-Las Vegas has been a Division I basketball team since 1970. The UNLV Rebels have been to the Final Four four times and won National Championship in 1990.

The NBA All-Star Game was held in Las Vegas in 2007. The bigger of the two NBA Summer League’s is held annually in Las Vegas.

USA Basketball hosts its camp and a showcase in Las Vegas.

And the clincher, Each March, LAS VEGAS hosts more college basketball tournament games than anywhere else in the country. In 2015, the whopping total comes to seven tournaments, 67 teams and 60 games stretched across 14 days.

The West Coast Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament features 10 teams playing nine games at The Orleans Arena March 5-10. The West Coast Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament features 10 teams playing nine games at The Orleans Arena March 5-10. The WAC (the conference that includes Kansas City’s own UMKC) Men’s Basketball Tournament features seven schools playing six games at The Orleans Arena March 11-14. The WAC Women’s Basketball Tournament features seven schools playing six games at The Orleans Arena March 11-14. The Mountain West Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament features 11 teams playing 10 games March 9-13 at the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV Campus. The Mountain West Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament features 10 teams playing 9 games March 11-14 at the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV Campus. The Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament features 12 teams playing 11 games at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on The Las Vegas Strip March 11-14.

To sum up:

WCC – 10 women’s teams/9 games

WCC – 10 men’s teams/9 games

WAC – 7 women’s teams/6 games

WAC – 7 men’s teams/6 games

Mountain West – 11 women’s teams/10 games

Mountain West – 10 men’s teams/9 games

Pac 12 – 12 men’s teams/11 games

Total – 67 teams/60 games.

Las Vegas has nine more teams and six more games than Kansas City.

Myth busted.