Tear-jerking human interest stories and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament are a match made in media heaven. Who could resist Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, the 98-year-old chaplain of the Loyola-Chicago team? Of course, broadcasters sweeten these accounts to the point where watching them is a lot like sucking grape-juice concentrate from a tube attached to a fraternity-party keg. If you’re diabetic, you’ll die.
So, we should probably all be grateful that Iowa’s Quenvy College didn’t make it past the tournament’s first round this year. Quenvy’s starting lineup included the following players:
Toby Standingwater — Abandoned by his parents at a trailer park at the age of 2, Toby was raised by the park’s manager, Zeb Banks — a divorced, blind, one-legged war veteran who suffered from PTSD. When Toby showed an interest in basketball in grade school, the impoverished but nurturing Zeb fashioned him a crude basketball by inflating a proctologist’s discarded rubber glove.
“Dribbling that damn thing was challenge,” Toby recalls. “But it taught me skills that made me the team’s go-to guy whenever we were trying to run out the clock. I can dribble forever!“
DeShawn Tyrone Demetrius Jackson — The only white Irish male with this name in human history, DeShawn was taunted mercilessly by both his white and black classmates when he was in elementary school. He learned to play basketball when his teachers refused to let him do anything else.
Delft Clog — At 8 feet, 10 inches, Delft is the tallest player in the NCAA. Born in the Netherlands, he was accidentally injected with Human Growth Hormone when his parents took him for a measles vaccination at age 15 months. A high school dropout, he was working part-time as a tree in a forest-themed amusement park outside of Amsterdam when a recruiter discovered him. “Now I am no longer a tree,” Delft says proudly. “No more dogs and cruel children peeing on my legs all the time. Basketball saved me. I am happy.”
Marvin “Mango” Gibson — At the beginning of 2015, Gibson was in the 40th year of 3 consecutive life terms at the Iowa State Penitentiary, having been convicted of robbing and killing 3 patients at the local hospice in Fort Madison. (“Hell, I figured they were 90% dead anyway,” he claims.)
Then, in 2015, he attended a weekend screening of Space Jam in the prison library. The inspirational basketball film featuring Michael Jordan “changed my life,” Gibson states. “I knew I could turn things around if I could only get a chance to play.” He petitioned the warden to be released on parole if he could gain acceptance at a nearby college, and the warden agreed. Quenvy admitted him, and now, at age 61, he’s the team’s starting power forward. “Sometimes my ankle monitor short-circuits the 30-second clock during a fast break, but otherwise it’s all good,” Gibson observes.
When he’s not in the classroom or the gym, Mango volunteers at the same hospice where he committed that heinous crime so many years ago.
The Spirit of Skip Blavens — The team’s captain, Skip lost his life just before the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, when he fell into a 250-foot-high grain silo on his family’s farm (see photo above). The team voted not to replace Skip on the court. As Toby Standingwater put it, “Skip was our spiritual leader, and we know his soul is with us out there, even if his body isn’t. That’s good enough for us. We call it our 4+1 offense.”
During games, the team honors Skip by placing an unopened box of shredded wheat in the chair he would have occupied on the bench.
The Quenvy Harvesters lost 126-52 to Tennessee in the tournament’s opening round this year, but as TV announcer Jim Nantz put it, “We know who the real winners are.”