It’s fun, it’s competitive, it’s friendly—and it may just be one of the oldest traditions here on the CUW campus. (Injuries and all!)
Let’s start at the beginning: This has been going on longer than any of us has been working here. Since before Concordia College became Concordia University. Since before Concordia moved to the campus on the bluff. Since before … well, nobody knows exactly how long faculty and staff members have been playing pickup basketball at lunch time, but the tradition could well be older than some of our dirt.
“This started way back on the old campus, so it’s been going on forever,” said Randy Ferguson, CUW director of Christian service and “unofficial NBA commissioner.”
Ferguson himself has been spending his lunch hours on the hardwood for nearly three full decades now, starting his NBA career “on day 1,” when he first started at CUW as a full-time professor in the fall of 1991. It could have been a very brief playing career, thanks to a serious and immediate injury.
“First week of school I tore my Achilles tendon playing noontime basketball,” he recalled. “And so here I am, a first-year university professor, and I’m walking around on crutches, with my book bag swinging left and right. But I had successful surgery to repair it, and haven’t had an issue with it since.”
As they say, “Not all heroes wear capes.”
Yes, there are occasional injuries, sometimes serious ones—enough to keep the Concordia Plans people on their toes, Ferguson joked. But not enough to dampen the enthusiasm of the 20-25 regulars on the email chain.
There’s no set schedule. Every morning someone will send an email asking, “Who’s in today?” If at least six people answer the call, the NBA is off and running. If there are more than 10 or 12, they split off into two games. Off days are the exception.
Ages range from old enough to know better to too young to care; from “Okay, Boomer” to “Get off my lawn!” In deference to the AARP-eligible and their enhanced physical maturity, all competition is conducted on a half-court basis.
Games are competitive, but casual. Everyone plays to win, but no one takes it too seriously. Controversy is rare; hard fouls are punishable by shame and ostracization. Some NBAers have serious game and others … not so much. But all are welcome, because it’s really all about spending time with colleagues and cultivating friendships.
“One of the biggest things for me is seeing guys from all across campus that I wouldn’t normally get to interact with,” said Doug Bender, associate campus pastor and survivor of a blown-out ACL. “It’s a nice cross-pollination of professors, administrators, staff members, you name it. It’s really cool to see that common bond, that we all love to play basketball.”
Billy Matt, clinical contract coordinator for the School of Nursing, agreed that the friendships he makes are the best part.
“I love the camaraderie of it, getting to know others from around campus,” said Matt, who, as one of the younger players, has managed to escape serious injury (so far). “Especially since some of the Noon Ball guys are former professors of mine. It’s fun getting to know other guys from around campus and understand what they do.”
“It’s just a great way to break up your day,” added Chris Cunningham, associate professor of pharmacy science, who once got a black eye from the elbow of Jason Lane (a teammate that day). “It’s also a great way to connect with colleagues that you don’t see on a day-to-day basis.”
“I love the fellowship with fellow faculty and staff,” agreed assistant director of AV-educational technology Justin Frisque, who once came “very close” to breaking his nose. “I also love the competitive nature of it on certain days. It’s really a great time to just hang out with other players and be able to have that experience ‘outside’ of the workday.”
Erik Evenson, buildings and grounds, a big guy who figures he’s probably caused more injuries than he’s suffered himself, loves that the game is something he can count on.
“I played in high school, and I still love to play,” he explained. “But as you get older it’s harder to just call up some guys and get a game going. I love that this is like a guaranteed thing.”
Mind, Body, and Spirit
Speaking of students, Noon Ball is really just for faculty and staff, though the guys will occasionally recruit a matriculated innocent bystander if they need
a fresh victim an extra player. That said, during Homecoming week in recent years, a team of “NBA all-stars” has taken on a student team for fun, bragging rights, and a traveling trophy. For this high-profile, full-court event, the more-seasoned, wily veterans let some of the fresher talent spearhead the effort.
“We have a few on the faculty who can really run and keep up,” Coach Ferguson said. “Like Jason Lane, who played Division II college basketball. He’s really good. Brian German is another one who plays at a very high level.”
Both those guys are associate professors of theology, and both fall into the “Rev. Dr.” category. So perhaps there’s something about doing the Lord’s work that has helped lead the team to victory over the students in two of the past three years.
Or maybe it’s just the inner peace that’s nurtured by letting a few three-pointers fly over the lunch hour now and again. That’s something that can make a real difference off the court.
“The friends I’ve made in this league are incredible,” said CUW finance director Bill Wood. “And to be very candid, Noon Ball has been my outlet during some very stressful periods at Concordia. If not for Noon Ball, I probably would have retired earlier, or at least taken some time off.”
And as for his injury history? “I’ve been to the hospital once and to urgent care twice,” Wood added. “All for the cause.”
Friendship, fellowship, camaraderie: “the cause”—that’s really what it’s all about. Sure, it’s fun to make light of some of the injuries, of a bunch of crazy guys risking life and limb to throw a brown ball through an orange hoop more often than the other guys can manage. But the NBA is so much more than that. It means a great deal to quite a few people.
And it’s so traditional. How could you not love something that’s been a part of our community longer than many of us have been alive? In “the old days,” there were even banquets and trophy presentations for things like best defensive and offensive player, but also fun categories such as “Worst Traveler” or “Hack of the Year.” And maybe it’s best not to mention (too late) the ceremonial gorging of post-game snacks on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent.
“It’s a really good bonding event,” Ferguson said of the daily NBA games. “It’s one of the things that brings us together, as a faculty and staff, from all segments of the university. I think it’s an important attribute of our community here.”
In other words, when you get right down to it, the NBA is missional. Well, let’s say it hits two shots out of three: Because developing bodies and lifting spirits is never a bad thing—even if some might argue that the players are slightly out of their minds.
— This story is written by Mike Zimmerman, corporate communications manager for Concordia University Wisconsin. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 262-243-4380.
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