Barnstorming is a lost American art. It began in the 1920s with stunt pilot flying circus exhibitions, and it was adopted in the middle of the 20th century by Negro League baseball teams, the Harlem Globetrotters and the early precursors of the NFL. Before TV changed the world of sport forever, barnstorming brought athletic flair to the most remote parts of the U.S. and segments of Canada. Also, it’s a fun word to say. Barnstorming.
But Doane College -- an NAIA school in Crete, Neb., from a small town about 15 miles from Lincoln -- is carrying on the tradition.
From Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, the Doane College men’s basketball team will visit all 93 counties in Nebraska. According to a release from the school, the Tiger players will take four vans -- two of which will head east, two of which will veer southeast. Coach Jim Weeks’ plan is to show up in a selected town in each county and play a 15-minute game between each of the two sets of vans. The venues? Schools, parks, community centers -- anywhere the locals will oblige.
The plans sound like classic barnstorming. At each location, each team will participate in shooting drills followed by a 5-on–5 intrasquad game. Coaches are tracking scores and shooting percentages -- which, if the games take place outdoors, will have to be adjusted for wind factors (as nothing is harder than shooting outside on a windy day) -- and will tally wins and losses toward a cumulative score for each team at the end of the tour.
The release is asking for communities’ help. The Tigers will need “meals, snacks, drinks or even a place to sleep.” Nebraska residents can check the rather thorough destination schedule at this link.
The key question is: Why? Why travel around Nebraska for a week? Why uproot your entire team so close to the start of the school year? Simple: exposure. Doane says it is hoping to “bring awareness of the NAIA Champions of Character program, promote Doane Basketball, generate a team-building atmosphere and create a fun and competitive environment.”
The mission of the NAIA Champions of Character program, if you’re wondering, is “to provide training to ensure character is demonstrated through conduct as well as competition, so students know, do and value the right thing in all areas of life … research shows that the longer a student spends in sports, their social reasoning - sacrificing for the good of the team - rises, however, their moral reasoning skills - doing what is fair, just, honest, and noble - decline.”
Now you know. And you’ve heard of Doane College Tigers from Crete, Neb. The tour hasn’t even started yet, but I think we can already call it a success. Barnstorming lives.