Salem’s Stan Birckhead had an item on his bucket list he thought might never be out there to put in the bucket. So, when the University of Virginia played for the NCAA basketball championship on April 8th, he knew what he had to do.
“I had to go,” said Birckhead. “I regretted that I didn’t go to the College World Series when Virginia won and I wasn’t going to miss this. It might not ever happen again.”
Birckhead is a long-time UVA fan. He grew up outside of Charlottesville and is a 1979 graduate of UVA, where he met his wife Susan, who graduated in 1981. They moved to Salem in 1982 and have lived here ever since.
“Our first date was on the day Elvis Presley died,” recalled Birckhead. “We’re both big fans, I saw them win the ACC in 1976 when Wally Walker was on the team.”
The Birckhead’s have two children who are both University of Virginia graduates, Matt in 2006 and Mallory in 2009. So, you can imagine their excitement when the Cavaliers made the final with a miracle victory over Auburn in the semifinals.
Matt, who now lives in Raleigh, flew to Minneapolis for the semifinals and watched the game with some of his fraternity buddies. It was Susan’s birthday that weekend and a party had been planned, so Stan sat that one out. However, when the Hoos won on Saturday night he started making plans to go to Monday night’s game with Mallory.
“I’ve been in the VAF(Virginia Athletic Foundation) for 25 years so I didn’t have any trouble getting tickets,” he said. “But I had to get a flight from Roanoke to Philly to Chicago to DeMoines, Iowa, and then it’s a three and a half hour drive to Minneapolis from DeMoines.”
Stan thought he had a rental car reserved, but when he got to the desk he was told all the cars were rented.
“They told me they’d put me on a waiting list, and it would probably be at least an hour,” he said. “By that time we’d miss the game, so I looked over at the Dollar General counter and there was one guy waiting in line. I asked them if they had any cars left, and they told me they had one car left, but it was 200 dollars. I said ‘I’ll take it.’ They repeated ‘it’s 200 dollars’ and I said ‘I’LL TAKE IT’.” I’m not going to miss this game over 200 dollars.”
Meanwhile Matt had flown back home, then flew back to Minneapolis for the final. He told them to extend his stay at the hotel and he told Stan a key would be left at the desk. However, when Stan and Mallory got there the room was locked and the key didn’t work. They managed to finagle a room and got to the game on time, where they had tickets about 40 rows behind the UVA bench.
“It was the Viking Club Level,” he said, as this was the home of the Minnesota Vikings football team. “They were good seats. There were people in the nosebleed section who had to use binoculars to watch the game.”
Stan and his kids were in their glory. They spotted former UVA basketball and football stars Ralph Sampson, Heath Miller, Chris Long, Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon, among others.
“There were probably some from long ago I didn’t recognize,” he said. “It was unbelievable. We didn’t sit down for the entire game.”
Of course, the Cavaliers came away with an overtime win, and it was bedlam on the floor.
“It was a great game,” said Stan. “After the game we just stood and watched the celebration and enjoyed it. It was a long day but it was absolutely worth it.”
Susan didn’t get to go, as she stayed back in Salem and watched it on TV with their grandson, Anderson. Hopefully there will be another chance, but the odds got slimmer this week when two of UVA’s biggest stars, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome, decided to forgo the remainder of their college careers to sign up for the NBA draft. But what the heck, once in a lifetime is more than the Birckheads expected.
“People thought they could never win with the style they played, but they did an incredible job,” said Birckhead. “This is one item crossed off my bucket list, and I’m going to get a bunch of shirts and hats in case it never happens again.”
NCAA CONTEST WINNER
I apologize for not announcing the winner of our NCAA Steps to the Championship basketball contest in last week’s paper. Of course, I stayed up to watch the whole game and most of the post-game celebration and that took me to way past midnight. With spring sports to write about all day Tuesday I just didn’t have the two or three hours it takes to correct all the contests by Tuesday evening’s deadline.
But, this week I have them corrected and we’re ready to announce the winner.
Congratulations to Justin Davis of Salem who missed just 11 of the 65 possible results. He edged several others who had 12 misses.
Amazingly, Justin won without picking either UVA or Texas Tech in the final. He went 30-2 in the first round and he did have three of the four teams in the final four, missing only on Auburn.
Justin will win a $50 gift certificate to Mac & Bob’s Restaurant and a year’s subscription to the Salem Times-Register.
I was sad to learn of the passing of Salem’s Paul Housman at the age of 83 last week.
Paul was a nationally acclaimed college basketball official who worked some of the top games in the sport, including N.C. State’s miracle win in 1983. He was one of the best.
A graduate of Jefferson High School and Roanoke College, Paul played on the RC team from 1955 to ’59 and held the school free throw shooting record for 17 years. I got to know him while covering basketball and serving on the RC Hall of Fame committee, where he was chairman. He was a good guy who always had a smile for you and he’ll be greatly missed.