It wasn't a national championship; there were no teams from Marquette or North Carolina, no roaring crowds or coast-to-coast TV. But to the college intramural basketball teams at George Washington's Smith Center last week end, it was every bit as important.
Thirteen colleges sent their best intramural teams to compete in th ninth annual D.C. Metropolitan Extramural Basketball Tournament. Sponsored by Schlitz, the competition is one of eight held across the nation each year.
This time around, defending champion Federal City College fell in the second round to the Dark Horses of George Washington, 66-62. The GW team then battled from behind to nip Howard, 45-42, and stormed past Bowie State, 63-41, to win the tournament for the second time in three years.
The awards ceremony was brief; when it was over, so was the season for the behind-the-scenes jock - the guy who couldn't make it on the varsity because lack of size, talent or time but who still wanted to compete.
For the winners it looked like this:
"it was their NCAA," said Dark Horse coach Mike Miller, a junior forward on GW's varsity basketball squad. "These guys are all jocks. All of them are fine athletes and this win means more to them than just about anything."
For the Dark Horses it was the fulfillment of a year-long goal to avenge last season's second round loss to Federal City and nab the team title.
Last Thursday, only two nights before the team got even with Federal City, the players were throwing a big bash to celebrate clinching the university intramural title.
Two kegs of beer, ordered that morning in anticipation of the win, were guzzled from Dixie cups while Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" album blared out of the third-floor Crawford Hall window to the street below.
"This is the greatest, this is what it's all about," exclaimed Danny (The Fountain) Waldman, a senior transfer who could have played varsity basketball for Allegheny College but chose GW's business school instead. "The key to it is that all of us on the team are great friends. We're a good team because we play as a unit and we really want to win. We think about this tournament all year."
"I have no illusions about playing varsity here," said standout forward John Dedon, who averaged 20 points a game in three years of high school basketball. "Everyone here realized his limitaions somewhere along the line. But that doesn't prevent us from wanting the competition or from getting a tremendous amount out of the program . . . We're all more than happy with this level of athletics."
Out in the hallway GW varsity star John Holloran was advising speedy Nick Phillips and team MVP Steve (Stinky) Morse on game strategy.
"Make sure you don't rush things," cautioned Holloran. "You guys will be all right if you just keep the pace under control."
The other team members, Pistol Pete Gaboriault, Big Bad Charlie Turner, Bad Luck John Schwartz and Craig (Pure Shot) Floyd mingled with loyal coed fans and drank more beer.
"No matter what happens this week end," said intramural director Rich Zygadlo, "these guys are examples of what can be gotten out of this "program. Intramurals give them an outlet for competition. They take it seriously but, as you can see, they also take it in perspective."
Campus security guards stopped by twice to try to quiet things, but the party continued loud and strong into the night.
Even for a team on the losing end, like Federal City, things weren't all bad.
Representing FCC was a team called Reynolds Wrap (formerly The Steel Curtain before several embarrassing early-season setbacks.)
Reynolds Wrap celebrated its college intramural title in the parking lot outside the Jewish Community Center at 16th and Q Streets NW.
"We had a little party right after the game," said player-coach Dempsey Barnes, a graduate student in education. "We didn't have time for anything big, though, because a lot of us have full-time jobs and families we've got to get back to."
"That's really the case," said Federal City intramural director Sidney Banks. "We've got one of the oldest student bodies on average in the country. Many of these guys were standout athletes in high school and still are. But it's hard to carry a full (college) work-load and full-time job and play varsity ball at the same time. That's why a lot of our students turn to intramurals.
Other factors have lured a number of students away from the varsity program into intramurals.
"Even though our program operates on zero budget and the court we play on is very small and doesn't have what you'd call a live rim," said Banks, "it gives our players the opportunity to travel to an excellent facility such as this as GW and meet teams that we'd never be able to schedule on a varsity level. Just being here is a very big thing."