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Ohio University head coach Jeff Boals hypes up the team before its game against Kent State on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (FILE)

Noah’s Ark: Smile because it happened

If one good thing happened to Ohio University in the last 12 miserable months, it was OU’s surprise March Madness bid. Everyone at OU already knows the storylines, but what happened in Indianapolis and Athens this past week was truly special. 

On the outside looking in, it’s easy to see this as no more than the Cinderella story that ended a little bit too soon, but that’s not even one-third of the truth. For the players, students, alumni and Athens residents, this was truly something magical. 

For the whole picture, let’s look at the unimpressive team a few miles north of us. 

If you go to Ohio State University, you were undoubtedly heartbroken over its historically disappointing performance in the tournament. The Buckeyes got bounced on the first day of the tournament by Oral Roberts. Yes, an evangelical institution from Tulsa, Oklahoma, beat one of collegiate athletics’ true powerhouses. 

While the loss had to sting for OSU, it wasn’t personal. Students at OSU love their teams, but so does everyone else. You could go almost anywhere in America and find an OSU fan who has never set foot on OSU’s campus, never attended a class at OSU and probably never even been to Columbus. Powerhouse programs out of the Big 10, SEC and PAC-12 are corporate machines. All eyes are on them all the time, and the students and locals are only a fraction of the fanfare.

This could not be less true for OU. Until last week, nobody in the world was invested in OU basketball aside from the students, alumni and Athens locals. This is something beautiful. All the proof you need is in Court Street’s reaction to the Bobcats’ upset over 4-seed Virginia. 

When OSU wins a first-round game, America expects it. When it wins a national championship in football, millions of Americans celebrate. When it loses, there is always next year. 

When OU wins a first-round game, the only people truly celebrating have a deep, powerful connection to Athens. 

What makes this run even more personal is the fact our players come here to stay here. Jason Preston, Ben Vander Plas and Dwight Wilson did not step foot on College Green for the first time expecting to leave for the NBA draft after one year. Moments like this are built, not manufactured, by the grinding gears of the professional sports machine. 

Yes, Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham taking the Cowboys on a run to the final four would have been special, but he was always there part-time. OU’s star players are not just basketball players — they are Bobcats just the same as all of us. 

Nobody captured this better than OU’s head coach, Jeff Boals, who is also an alumnus deeply tied to Athens. In a teary-eyed final speech, he captured the essence of OU’s magical run. 

The finale Monday was hard to watch, and there may not be next year. However, what everyone at OU got to be a part of this March does not come around often. We got the chance to experience something rare. Nobody believed this was possible but us. In my book, that beats rooting for a team expected to win a national championship any day of the week. 

Until the day I die, I will remember the joy of sprinting head-on into the madness of Court Street to celebrate our first-round win, drinking too many beers on a Monday evening and, for a brief moment, believing OU could achieve the impossible. This is truly one of those moments where it’s time to smile because it happened instead of crying because it’s over. 

Noah Wright is a senior studying strategic communication at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Noah? Tweet him @NoahCampaign.

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