Finding Basketball Bliss; ACC Die-Hards Put Tournament above All Else

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 10, 2005 | Go to article overview

Finding Basketball Bliss; ACC Die-Hards Put Tournament above All Else


Byline: Rick Snider, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Rev. John Peters is such a devoted fan of the ACC tournament that for one Sunday in each of the past 25 years, he has chosen hoops over his own congregation.

Mr. Peters' dedication, however, pales next to that of Jack Heise: The Bethesda lawyer has missed the Atlantic Coast Conference's annual men's basketball tournament only twice since it began in 1954.

The four-day tournament opens today at MCI Center, and Mr. Heise and Mr. Peters will be on hand once again - along with the other die-hards who share their whatever-it-takes zeal to every year attend one of the college game's greatest events.

"My friends think I'm nuts, and my priorities aren't right," Mr. Heise says. "But I cover that by taking the family to Maui for basketball tournaments and the trip to Italy" with Maryland's team last year.

Gray Boyette has attended 45 ACC tournaments and before that a dozen tournaments of the Southern Conference, the ACC's predecessor.

Dr. Boyette, a retired doctor who lives in Winston-Salem, N.C., has followed the basketball fortunes of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons since the 1940s. The tournament is about more than just basketball for him.

"Basketball is a part of me that wouldn't go away," he says. "It has become such a social and cultural event."

To longtime fans, the tournament has the feel of a reunion of an extended family - year after year drawing distant hoops cousins whose faces are familiar even if the names are not always remembered.

"It's an old-timers atmosphere," Mr. Heise says. "People come to party, they come to meet old friends, they visit in the arena hallways. People live for it."

The 80-year-old Mr. Heise, like Dr. Boyette, attended the event when it still was the Southern Conference tournament. He was passionate about it even then: Only a three-year stint in the Air Force during World War II kept him away.

Mr. Heise is ardent even by the standards of the ACC tournament die-hards.

He attends Maryland Terrapins lacrosse, field hockey and some baseball games. When there's a conflict between Terrapins football and basketball games, he has the solution: Charter a plane and see both.

Mr. Heise is usually seated at basketball games near political pundit and fellow die-hard Maryland fan Robert Novak, each wearing sweaters of Terrapins red. …

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