For some fans, March Madness is more about the ritual than the game -
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For some fans, March Madness is more about the ritual than the game
By Cara Pesek
World-Herald staff writer

During this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, Carlos Carr cheered first for Creighton University. A job at Creighton, after all, originally drew the Kansas City native to Omaha.

After Creighton lost to Duke, Carr switched his attention to the University of Kansas (which he thinks of as his hometown team), and to Wichita State (a team he saw play now and then when he lived in Kansas City). This year he also kept an eye on teams in the Big East Conference (he figured he might as well see what Creighton will be up against next year).

Basketball bars

Still looking for a place to watch some basketball this weekend? Sports bars throughout Omaha (and Council Bluffs) have you covered. Among the options:

Arena Sports Bar & Grill, 3809 N. 90th St., 402-571-2310
Barley's Bar & Grill, 114 W. Broadway, Council Bluffs, 712-322-0306
Barrett's Barleycorn Pub & Grill, 4322 Leavenworth St., 402-554-5805
Barry O's, 420 S. 10th St., 402-341-8032
Bishops Bar & Grill, 1901 Harney St., 402-934-7808
Blue Jay Bar, 2416 Davenport St., 402-345-1979
Brewsky's Sports Bar, 15350 Weir St., 402-614-2739 & 8528 Park Drive, 402-210-2739
Capitol Lounge, 2012 Capitol Ave. For table reservations, call 402-708-9988
Crescent Moon Ale House, 3578 Farnam St., 402-345-1708
Dinker's Bar, 2368 S. 29th St., 402-598-3742
DJ's Dugout Downtown, 1003 Capitol Ave., 402-763-9974
DJ's Dugout West, 636 N. 114th St., 402-498-8855.
DJ's Dugout Bellevue, 10308 S. 23rd St., 402-292-9096
DJ's Dugout Aksarben Village, 2102 S. 67th St., 402-933-3533
Fox & Hound, 506 N. 120th St., 402-964-9074
Goodnights Pizza Bar, 1302 Mike Fahey St., 402-502-2151
Icehouse, 10920 Emmet St., 402-934-2337
Clancy's, 777 N. 114th St., 402-498-6400
Loose Moose Bar & Grill, 4915 N. 120th St., 402-933-2040
The Old Mattress Factory, 501 N. 13th St., 402-346-9116
Oscar's Pizza & Sports Grille, 17330 Lakeside Hills Plaza, 402-758-1910
Parliament Pub, 16939 Wright Plaza, 402-991-6555
Parliament Pub Downtown, 1212 Harney St., 402-934-3301
The Recovery Room, 4016 Leavenworth St., 402-345-7959
Salty Dog Bar & Grill, 2411 S. 24th St., Council Bluffs, 712-256-4851
Stiles Pub, 1204 Howard St., 402-991-9911
The Tap House, 1403 Farnam St., 402-932-5131
Two Fine Irishmen, 18101 R Plaza, 402-633-3990
Union Pizzeria & Sports Bar, 1420 Cuming St., 402-932-2929
West Varsity & Roman Coin Pizza, 14529 F St., 402-715-4333
The Varsity & Roman Coin Pizza Dundee, 4900 Dodge St., 402-934-9439
The Varsity & Roman Coin Pizza Ralston, 9735 Q Street, 402-339-1944
The Varsity & Roman Coin Pizza Bellevue, 3504 Samson Way, 402-932-1944

Carr spent a Thursday night at DJ's Dugout Downtown, watching games, drinking beer and talking basketball with his friend, Paul Toliver. Toliver, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, had also cheered for Creighton, but he has a soft spot for West Coast teams, too. This year, Florida Gulf Coast University's story captivated him.

“I'm always pulling for the underdog, no doubt,” Toliver said.

Both Carr and Toliver are college basketball fans. They have favorite teams, but for them — like many others — the excitement of the tournament, the stories behind the teams (Toliver, like basically everyone else in the world, didn't even know Florida Gulf Coast existed until this year's playoffs) and the draw of having a few beers in a bar full of other fans have turned the tournament into a modern tradition.

The tournament — which peaks this weekend with the Final Four — sucks in both casual college basketball fans such as Carr and Toliver, as well as superfans, such as Darren Cloud, a college student from Kansas City who was visiting friends in Omaha and ventured to DJ's Dugout to watch the first of the Sweet Sixteen games.

Cloud grew up in Ohio and is a big Ohio State fan. He was wearing an Ohio State sweatshirt at DJ's and had picked the team to win it all.

But he can get into almost any college basketball game, he said.

Few other times during the year is there so much emotion packed into such a short time, he said.

“It means so much to these people,” he said of the players. “It's cool to see kids give it everything.”

He watched the game with Annie Shopmaker, also of Kansas City, and some other friends. Shopmaker doesn't consider herself a basketball fan, but she still rooted for Michigan, the team she picked to win it all when she filled out her bracket.

“I don't care about basketball, to be honest,” she said.

In the Olechoski family, March Madness has become a family tradition.

For years, said Craig Olechoski, his siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and spouses (as well as the occasional girlfriend or boyfriend of a cousin), fill out their brackets for the annual family pool.

Several years ago, he said, they made the switch from paper brackets to Yahoo's online one, and they use an accompanying forum to tease family members who make especially poor choices. Family members have written haikus about the terrible bracket selections of other family members.

“We just talk a lot of junk to each other,” he said, “but obviously in a very loving, fun way.”

March Madness also has become a way for Olechoski and the cousins of his generation to stay in touch. All grew up in Omaha, but over the past decade or so, many have left for college or jobs. Olechoski sees some of his cousins just a couple of times a year.

“We kind of use this as a time to catch up and come together,” he said.

It's also fun to see who picks what, he said. Olechoski described himself as a fairly serious basketball fan, and he chooses diplomatically, using the rankings and the games he's watched over the season as his guides. Some family members, year after year, just guess. And there's a contingent, he said, of “blind Kansas fans,” who optimistically pick the Jayhawks to win, year after year.

This year, pretty much the entire Olechoski clan rooted for Creighton. But they didn't let their hometown pride cloud their vision.

“I think my whole entire family had Creighton winning and then losing,” he said. “No one was making up any ground. They were all just trying to be realistic.”

Olechoski has a chance to get third in the family pool if Syracuse wins this weekend, so that's who he's rooting for. Shopmaker's Michigan Wolverines are still in the tournament, too, along with Wichita State and Louisville. Carr and Toliver didn't fill out brackets this year — Carr didn't have time to do as much research as he wanted, and Toliver lamented that his bracket never does especially well, so this year he didn't bother. But they'll still be paying attention this weekend.

“March Madness is kind of a ritual now,” Carr said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1052,

Contact the writer: Cara Pesek    |   402-444-4052    |  

Cara writes about nightlife -- bars, clubs, karaoke, and other places people go to have a good time -- as well as fashion, pop culture and trends.

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