Madness?!? This is Basketball!

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Four sections of the Martinez gym rumbled Sunday night under the feet of an excited Spartan fan crowd that was anxious to greet their 2007-2008 men’s and women’s basketball teams at their first practice of the season.

Half an hour before Midnight Madness began, the fans were starting to get loud as they enjoyed free food, drinks and entertainment from the Spartan mascot dancing to the music. The teams greeted people in the lobby, taking pictures with adoring crowds of supporters.

The players retired from the lobby as the cheerleading squad was introduced. After the cheerleaders helped stir some Spartan spirit, the competitions began.

The first was a doughnut eating contest. Four teams of two lined up, hands held behind backs, each team facing a box of dozen doughnuts. One side of the table gave way as the official scoring process began, mixing the results and adding to the hilarity of the situation as a whole.

Transitioning immediately from one event to another, the cheerleaders returned. Small plastic balls were tossed into the crowd that could be traded for a free combo meal at Wendy’s, but were more often than not kept as a souvenir.

Once again, a dull moment was replaced by another event. The dance team took center court as the last of the fans returned their balls. A well-rehearsed routine ended as the clock neared fifteen minutes to midnight.

Eight contestants in two teams of four next competed in a heated relay with a college spin. Instead of acting like a wheel burrow or two people racing on three legs, the relay consisted of putting on clothes quickly, and taking them off even faster. Socks, shoes, basketball shorts and jerseys were scattered across the gym floor as contestants sprinted, galloped and crawled to give their team an edge.

Midnight arrived. The players of both teams entered and began warming up. Shortly after, the women’s team was introduced, and coach Tom Jessee said a few words about his players.

Next, the men’s team entered. Each member was introduced and coach Richard Schmidt spoke excitedly about his team’s upcoming season.

“I think if you come out to the games this year, you will enjoy them,” said Schmidt.

Midnight had passed but the madness was far from over. A co-ed three-point shooting contest began after the player introductions. A volunteer from the crowd picked a basketball team member of the opposite gender to shoot with.

The crowd cheered as the varsity members showed superior skill, but the contestants held their own. The women’s team took control of the court, showing a now seated crowd certain plays they may run in a game situation called basketball 101. The men’s team followed in the same fashion.

After, the teams put the plays into action with the help of six volunteers.

Two teams of five, each consisting of two players and three contestants faced off in game style play. The varsity players were not allowed to shoot, but as shown several times by the men’s team, were allowed to block shots.

The night ended with a slam dunk showcase from the men’s team. The more creative each player got, the louder the reaction from a crowd that was just as attentive and alive as they had been in the beginning. The night announced the arrival of basketball season.

But it also redefined Spartan spirit and fan support, two elements the fans will hopefully continue to bring to every Tampa sporting event.

Click to see what the players had to say at Midnight Madness!

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