Gardner Webb (61) vs. Virginia Military Institute (64) 12/11/2021

Game #100 of 358 29% complete

Six years ago, I began this journey not quite sure if it was the best way to spend my retirement time. The goal seemed so far away yet after the first few games, it became my passion. The joy of traveling and seeing this great country of ours combined with my love of ANY college basketball game has never receded despite pitfalls and curves along the way. This mission has taught me patience and the ability to pivot when plans go awry especially in this COVID era. Today is my 100th game! Many others on this same journey have far exceeded that number, so I am in good company.

I have been trying to get three schools on one trip to minimize travel and hotel costs as I venture further and further away from Connecticut. On this Virgina trip, I saw VMI, Richmond and William & Mary. Since I flew into Richmond and stayed there, the first game at VMI was a 2-hour trip by car in the opposite direction, in the western part of the state. Putting on my podcasts and enjoying the rolling hillsides, I pulled in about 11AM, a couple of hours before game time.

Finding a parking spot in a public area after driving around for a few minutes, I ended up near my tourist visit to Stonewall Jackson’s house. The house was small, and the self-guided tour was done in about 45 minutes, but it was cool to see many of Jackson’s personal artifacts. The poor guy was accidently (or maybe not) shot and killed by one of his own soldiers during the civil war.

Walking around the downtown area, the small town of Lexington VA (about 7,000 folks) reminded me of an historic neighborhood in Boston with cobblestone streets and old buildings dating back to the 1700’s.

After grabbing a brew and steak sandwich at The Palms, I took the 10-minute walk over to Cameron Hall. Outside was a line of impeccably dressed cadets waiting to get in.

Known as the “West Point of the South” by honest Abe, half of the graduates last year received a commission in the armed forces.

From Wiki: Prospective cadets must be between 16 and 22 years of age. They must be unmarried, and have no legal dependents, be physically fit for enrollment in the ROTC, and be graduates of an accredited secondary school or have completed an approved homeschool curriculum. The Class of 2022 at VMI had an average high school GPA of 3.70 and a mean SAT score of 1210.[73]

That being said, I have never seen such a rowdy and loud output from a student section yet (I have not done Duke yet). I was out of earshot of their verbal onslaughts but reading lips occasionally brought to mind a dichotomy of the upright and proud image of a cadet vs. the unruly loud student fan.

Many schools are using virtual programs these days. One scans the OCR code to bring up the program in a browser. I get it with idea of saving paper and eliminating the pitfalls of COVID transmission, but I miss holding a paper in my hand giving the relatively small size of my IPHONE.

Gardner Webb put up a valiant battle this game only succumbing in the end. A game-tying 3-pointer from D’Maurian WIlliams rimmed out at the final buzzer. Jake Stephens, the Cadets huge 6’10” center was too overpowering underneath for the smaller Bulldogs. His foot work in the paint was impressive. The senior is a pre-season second team SoConn league pick.

VMI had won its previous two games on a west coast trip. The cadets earned John Rothstein’s “epitome of brutality” label by beating Portland. Like similar armed forces teams, you can tell that the VMI boys put in a lot of work at the gym.

The cadets are headed back to their dorms after the game.

That’s a wrap. Back to Richmond for a two-hour ride hoping to get there for a 6PM start!

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Gardner-Webb (60) vs. UNC-Asheville (65) 01/24/18

56 of 351  15% complete

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My wife Linda is not a college basketball fan or a sports fan in general. She agrees to go on one Operation 351 trip a year as long as other activities are included that are for her. So this year, we picked the see UNC-Asheville followed by a visit to the Biltmore Mansion.

As you can see below, she is prepping for the game by reading a book on the Biltmore Mansion. However, she will shock me with a surprise which I reveal later below.

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I need to include a picture of the Biltmore Mansion because it is well worth a visit if you are in this area. But that is as far as I will diverge from the Operation 351 mission.

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As is customary, I always point out items that are a first for me during the Operation 351 journey.

Item #1

The UNC Asheville mascot entered the arena down a rope at center court. I think that this is a voluntary position or may be paid with a hot dog at the end of the game but that would be definitely be outside my job responsibilities if I were the mascot.

Item #2

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This blood pressure machine located in a college basketball arena is a first for me. My beloved UCONN boys have suffered through a terrible season and now are under NCAA investigation for recruiting violations. Based on some of the UCONN games personally attended this year, my blood pressure would have read off the scale if this baby was at the Gampel Arena.

Item #3

This is the first game in the Operation 351 journey where the mascots are the SAME for both teams. – Bulldogs. The scoreboard could only use one mascot name for the team. They chose to use GWU for Gardner-Webb.

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Gardner-Webb is from Boiling Springs, North Carolina which is only 1 1/2 hours away from Asheville. I sense that there is a rivalry between these Big South league teams. A loud and raucous group of Gardner-Webb fans showed up to cheer on their team. It was all good natured ribbing between the student bodies.

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The game was back and forth throughout the entire game. I was kidding Linda that this game could go into multiple overtimes prompting a scowl on her face.

I enjoyed watching Kevin Vannatta of UNC Asheville play. He was a hard nosed kid that played hard and wore his emotions on his sleeve. He was the type of player that you hate to play against. His spirited play helped the Bulldogs (oops UNC Asheville) pull the game out at the end.

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Yes that is a Hardees mascot in the corner.

The arena was an excellent place to see a game. I always wonder how branches of state universities afford such great arenas but I guess North Carolina must be doing well.

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Welcome to the smallest pep band so far in Operation 351. There were some older folks in the band. Perhaps the flu struck down the entire band and replacements were called in.

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So I am saving the biggest thrill of the night for last. In all my Operation 351 games to date, I have not a caught a T-shirt. Tonight I modified my technique to hug the shirt to my chest instead of having it bounce off my hands into the row in front of me.  SUCCESS!

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Of course, the “GASES” part brought chuckles from my wife and kids.

Next Game: Southern Wesleyan at Western Carolina 01/25/18

As I was contemplating what to do on our off night, I happen to glance at the Division 1 school map of the United States. Western Carolina looked pretty close about one hour away. I saw that Western Carolina was playing. I jokingly mentioned it to Linda not expecting to hear the words “Sure let’s go!”.  Of course, I rewarded her with more shopping trips the next morning but it was worth it. What a trooper!

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