ALLEGANY, N.Y. — Some call it madness. At St. Bonaventure University, March Madness is more like euphoria.
Both SBU basketball teams are headed for the NCAA tournaments and the community could not be happier. Fans of all types — students, staff, alumni, children of alumni, and sportswriters — are enjoying this moment in Bona history.
For the first time since 2000, the SBU men’s team has landed a spot in the Big Dance, after beating Xavier University on Sunday to win its first Atlantic 10 championship. For the first time ever, the Lady Bonnies are making a NCAA Tournament appearance.
“Go Bona’s!” was the reaction of Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, who has enthusiastically followed the team since he was the university’s campus minister back in the 1970s.
“I had the opportunity to be present for the Final Four in College Park, Md., and was on campus during the celebrations when St. Bona’s won the National Invitational Tournament. It’s great to see and feel the excitement once again and great to see SBU in the national news, as it was to be a part of Siena College’s exciting NCAA runs a couple of years ago,” said John, an SBU trustee.
The headlines and articles being written by journalists make it clear that these playoff bids are something special. So, too, do the comments by members of the SBU community.
“Welcome, St. Bonaventure, to the rainbow,” is how The Buffalo News ended its March 11 story “Bonnies’ one shining moment,” on the day SBU played before a crowd of cheering fans in brown in Atlantic City, N.J. “No longer is St. Bonaventure a school without a championship, a program beaming with pride but, until Sunday, there was something missing. No longer must it answer the same question posed endless ways.”
“This is a great moment for the program and for the school,” said men’s coach Mark Schmidt in a USA Today article. “From where we have come, it’s been a long battle.”
According to the March 11 story, “This is rebirth for St. Bonaventure, whose program was embarrassed in 2003 for using an illegal player and then allowing its players to boycott two regular-season games after the conference suspended the player.”
Several media outlets mentioned the scandal, but perhaps none so comprehensively and movingly as the Olean Times Herald. In “Welcome to the Big Dance, Bonnies,” Mike Vaccaro, a 1989 SBU graduate, described what the win on “the perfect afternoon at Boardwalk Hall” meant to members of the SBU community. After reflecting back on the events of March 11, 2003, when Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, then senior vice president for Franciscan charism and now SBU’s president, and Dominic Monti, OFM, then interim president, were questioned by the media and provided the first signals that “Bona was bigger than the bums who’d tried to bury it.”
“That day, in fact,” Vaccaro wrote, “Sr. Margaret had said, ‘We’re a college that has always stood for something in particular.’”
This year, on the same date, now SBU president Sr. Margaret said, “It almost makes you want to cry, doesn’t it?”
“Today was for celebration. Today was for the sign — ATLANTIC TEN CHAMPIONS — and the score, St. Bonaventure 67, Xavier 56, and, most of all, for the sentiments first uttered by Schmidt and echoed by everyone else as they finally forced themselves to the door,” Vaccaro wrote. “The Bonnies are back, baby.”
“You’d have to have gone to Bona’s to understand the passion we have for our alma mater,” said Bill Collins, a member of the SBU Board of Trustees. “We may be the smallest school in the field, but no one has a bigger heart.”
Social Media Excitement
“Always proud to be a Bonnie but especially so today,” Collins wrote on Facebook earlier this week. “And tomorrow night we find out where our great women’s team is going.” On Monday, Collins posted an article that appeared in Bonaventure magazine last year, calling it a “great story about Andrew Nicholson and how the potential first-round draft choice ended up at St. Bonaventure.”
Collins was one of many alumni who posted congratulations and praise on social media.
SBU alumnus Adrian Wojarnowski, a sportswriter for Yahoo, posted on his Facebook page the coverage that WKBW in Buffalo gave of the March 12 selection show viewing in the Reilly Center. The St. Bonaventure women’s team celebrated when it was announced that the Bonnies had earned a No. 5 seed in that NCAA tournament, according to The Buffalo News. “Every time I’m sure is special, but the first time is obviously even more so,” said coach Jim Crowley.
Olean resident John Bartimole, who graduated from St. Bonaventure in 1976, posted Business Insider sports page “Ranking the NCAA Tournament Field 1-68” with the comment: “Highest ranking I’ve seen yet for our beloved Bonnies.”
On Sunday, before the game, Daniel Horan, OFM, a 2005 SBU graduate, wrote on his blog: “It has been an awesome season for both the women and men’s teams at SBU, a well-deserved and greatly appreciated comeback after 10 years of very, very difficult times (Google the SBU basketball scandal of 2002-2003 to catch up if you don’t know what I’m talking about). The Women Bonnies ended the regular NCAA season ranked No. 16 in the nation, the smallest team to reach that distinction this season, the only A-10 team for either women or men to be nationally ranked for most of the season (until Temple’s men entered the top 25 in the last weeks of regular play), and the first time in SBU history (the women have been playing since the mid-1980s) that they’ve reached that national status. This is, by the way, the only Franciscan school left in post-season play.”
A Chicago blogger with no connection to the small school in southwest New York announced after Sunday’s game that “Chicago Tough is 100 percent all-in on the greatness and dominance of St. Bonaventure basketball. That’s why we are adopting them as our team for the 2012 NCAA Tournament.” The blog, part of the ChicagoNow network, describes “three things about St. Bonaventure that I think are cool that will make you want to like St. Bonaventure.”
This morning, the Western New York community participated in a sendoff salute to the men’s basketball team before it departed for Nashville, Tenn. Bonnies fans will do the same for the women’s team on Friday when it departs for the first-round game in Florida on Sunday.
Friday’s men’s game against Florida State University will be played at 2:45 p.m. and will be telecast on CBS. Sunday’s women’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University, played at 2:30 p.m., will air on ESPN2.
— Jocelyn Thomas is communications director for Holy Name Province and a graduate of St. Bonaventure University who says she has fond memories of the Bonnies winning the National Invitational Tournament in 1977.
Editor’s note: A collection of SBU basketball photos can be viewed on “Bonnies 2012 March Madness” a Pinterest board created by 2003 alumna Nicole Schuman.