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Why the Cinderella March Madness story matters so much.

“Anything can happen, Dad.” -Patrick O’Leary

My son Patrick is a die-hard fan of the Saint Louis University Billikens men’s basketball team.

Six years ago, when Santa still made visits to his house, Patrick’s favorite present was a Billiken jersey with his name on the back of it. For the past several years, our family has invested in season tickets because of his passion for the team. And over the last four years, he and I have traveled to road games around the country in the hopes of rooting our team to victory.

And four different times he’s walked out of visiting arenas, wearing his jersey, with his head hung in defeat.

So hopeful is he that this year, with his guys swimming near the bottom of their conference standings carrying a 5-13 record, he still held out hope for a bid to the NCAA tournament. Although it wasn’t meant to be for the Billikens, there’s something supremely beautiful about Patrick’s unrelenting hope.

With the slate of NCAA tournament teams finalized yesterday, hardcore fans and bandwagon followers everywhere now turn to the task of filling out their bracket, predicting which of the teams will advance throughout the 67 game, three-week long tournament.

Represented in the mix, of course, are this season’s dominant teams and perennial powerhouses. Alongside those favorites are, in my opinion, the very reason March Madness worms its way into our consciousness each year: the Cinderella teams!

Unlikely runs by supposedly overmatched teams like the 1990 Loyola Marymount Lions, 2011 Butler Bulldogs, and the 2022 Saint Peter’s Peacocks make March Madness the most compelling sporting event of the year.

Why is it so compelling when an unexpected team knocks off a higher seeded team?  Why do we find ourselves cheering for schools we’ve never heard of, mascots we don’t recognize and players we don’t know?

Well, neurologically, positive surprises trigger the release of mood-improving neurotransmitter dopamine. Receiving something unexpected opens our minds to possibility, improves our attention and shifts our mood. It has that same powerful and positive impact on the moods of those around us.

Need proof? Check out the arenas this week as the inevitable upsets occur. Watch the high fives and bear hugs between people who hours earlier were total strangers. Simply witnessing a surprise together can create a lifelong bond.

But here’s the bigger point, my friends. You don’t need to be a basketball fan to be on the receiving end of the benefits listed above. Like the as yet to be determined Cinderella teams we’ll discover later this month, you can be the agent for unexpected positive surprises for those in your life.

Go out of your way to surprise someone today. Call your Mom. Send flowers to a friend. Compliment a stranger.

Cover the tab. Lighten the load at home. Be the first to say “good morning” or “I love you” or “I am sorry.”

Listen for the needs of others and empower them to live up to the fullness of their lives.

Doing so may not guarantee your favorite basketball team success. Trust me.

It will, however, positively surprise those around us. In doing so, you’ll help them release dopamine, improve their outlook, elevate their day, and enhance their connection with you.

As my perpetually hopeful Patrick reminds me, “Anything can happen, Dad.”

Let’s be a spark instilling that hope in others’ lives today.

Today is your day. Live Inspired.

5 replies on “Anything Can Happen”

Patrick, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” —John Quincy Adams.

Patrick, you dream all you want about your Billikens- you’ve inspired me today.

This is a great connection story to the March Madness Fun! Your facts on dopamine are enlightening. My children use that term “dope” and you have helped me warm up to it a little bit! I’ve thought negatively about that adjective and I can now see the connection with surprises and Cinderella teams. The also makes me remember the movie “Angels in the outfield”. Your Patrick has great thinking, “anything can happen!”

Thanks for the perfect Monday morning message John. It’s always amazing how the “have a good day” said to a gas station attendant, the front desk person at a hotel, or any of the people working at an airline can really change their attitude. Those little comments go a long way. Thanks for always being the positive influence.

I loved that story. It is so true when someone brightens your day, it makes all the difference. Yesterday a beautiful rainbow brightened my day. I took a picture and gave it to the person I was visiting. It was special too being on St Patrick’s Day. You brightened my day with your story.

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