Eye on the Ball: March Madness, Island style

COURTESY PHOTO From left, Jon Kilb, Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum and Darrell Griffith outside the Barclays Center during the ACC Tournament.

COURTESY PHOTO From left, Jon Kilb, Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum and Darrell Griffith outside the Barclays Center during the ACC Tournament.

I suppose when you’re watching a sport and not playing it, people label you a fan. But since I only watch playoff games — World Series, Super Bowls, March Madness and major golf tournaments — I don’t feel I should be called a “loyal” fan.

However, here on Shelter Island, I know a man who qualifies as what I call a “true” fan of all sports.

His name is Jon Kilb. I interviewed him this past week in an attempt to capture his incredible passion, and the sports odyssey he’s been on this month (more later on his itinerary).

During the interview, not to feel abnormal, Jon mentioned two of his Shelter Island High School buddies, Brian Mundy and Steve Lenox, who love sports at least as much as he does.

Although he watches a lot of pro basketball and football, Jon has become over time a bigger fan of the college games. “There is nothing like the energy of the fans at those games,” he said. He added that he feels the fans are both more loyal and more passionate than those following professional teams.

Like all fanatics he has his favorites that go back to his childhood. In baseball, it’s the Yankees. His earliest memories return to 1977 when the Yankees were playing the Dodgers in the World Series. In game six, Reggie Jackson’s three home runs propelled the Yankees to another championship and earned him the name, Mr. October.

At that moment, Reggie locked up the title as Jon’s favorite player.

In football, the Super Bowl shuffling Chicago Bears were then and still are his favorite gridiron gang.

His admiration for the hustle and intensity that eight-time All-Pro and Football Hall of Famer Mike Singletary brought to the game made him his number one football player. In hockey, it’s Ray Ferraro and the New York Islanders of the early 1990s that inspired his love for hockey.

In basketball, he cheers for the hometown Knicks in the NBA, but confesses that he watches the Kentucky Wildcats more often.

“The Kentucky Wildcats?” I asked.

Seems the first college game Jon ever attended featured the Wildcats and he’s been a loyal supporter ever since.

This early love for sports never went away. Jon estimates it has brought him to about two thirds of all professional sports stadiums in the country, and probably just as many college gyms and fields. No grass has ever had the chance to grow under Jon’s feet.

I was curious about what he considered his favorite sport. His answer was that he pretty much enjoys all the major sports — football, basketball, hockey, and baseball — equally. In the past few years he’s even started watching more soccer because of the passion of the fans and the convenient television schedule that broadcast the matches live on weekend mornings.

Jon does favor a certain month, however, which is March. The convergence of spring training, the playoff push in the NHL and NBA and, of course, March Madness, make it the perfect time for a sports junkie. Here’s a rundown of the games he’s attended in March of 2017.

On March 1 and then a week later Jon traveled to Stony Brook University for two America East Conference playoff games. Sandwiched in between was a weekend trip to watch college hockey in Connecticut. On March 8, he spent the day at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn where he saw four Atlantic Coast Conference tournament games.

The following day he watched two more ACC games at the Barclays Center and then hopped the subway to Madison Square Garden to watch two Big East tournament games. The next night, March 10, it was back to the Barclays for the ACC semifinal games, the first of which featured the great rivalry between Duke and North Carolina. His face lit up when recollecting the energy and intensity of that great game.

The next day he attended the Big East Championship game at the Garden at 5:30 p.m., then hustled back to Brooklyn for the 9 p.m. ACC Championship game at the Barclays. That made 16 conference tournament games for Jon in the first 11 days of March.

After a relatively light week — championship boxing at the Garden on March 18, Jon was back at the Garden for the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen this past weekend. The type of game he loves happened between Florida and Wisconsin on Friday night, which might have been the best basketball game I’ve ever watched. Florida scored the winning basket with the game clock registering zero.

Saturday, March 25, Jon made a quick drive up to Providence, Rhode Island for the NCAA Hockey Tournament (Harvard vs. Air Force) before returning to the Garden on Sunday to see the South Carolina Gamecocks defeat Florida and make history with their first ever trip to the Final Four.

When he talks about himself as a fan, he says it’s simple: He loves to see a great game, be a part of history and feel the intensity of the crowd. The Final Four will be played on April 1 and 3 in Phoenix, and you can bet that if the opportunity presents itself, Jon Kilb will be there.

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