[media-credit id=168 align="alignleft" width="300"][/media-credit]As third quarter comes to a close, I look ahead to my spring break with mixed feelings. And no, that’s not because I’m afraid to see my report card (although, I am). I’m conflicted about this break because I’m going to Italy with the Choraliers rather than staying here in Kansas City.

If you read that last sentence and saw that something didn’t quite add up, then congratulations, you’re a logical person. You’re absolutely right if you think that I should be excited about traveling the Italian countryside for 10 days along with over 100 other Lancers. Believe me, I am excited – I really am. There’s this one little catch though.

I’ll miss the opening weekend of March Madness.

The 68-team basketball bonanza, dubbed “March Madness” by sports pundits is more than just the sporting event of the year for me. It’s the event of the year. For six years now, my family has hosted “Hanson’s Opening Weekend,” a four-day viewing party for the first two rounds of the tournament.

Originally thrown for my dad’s friends, it has expanded to include my friends and even those of my 6-year-old brother. “Hanson’s Opening Weekend” has evolved beyond the usual sports party. It’s a party so legendary that it has its own name and apparel, so universally appealing that it connects three generations of attendees, so inspiring that it has created basketball fans out of the unlikeliest of people.

Do I exaggerate? Eh, maybe I do. But to me, the success of “Hanson’s Opening Weekend” can’t be overstated. It’s been the highlight of my year for the past three years. And if you think that sounds depressing, you just don’t know me well enough.

If I made a list of the things that make me happy, “Basketball” would be pretty high on the list. Definitely top five. But topping that list would be “Having Everyone I Know And Love In One Place.” My greatest joy in life comes from seeing people that I love get over their differences and disagreements and come together for a common cause. That sounds cheesy, but it’s very, very true. Knowing that about me, no one can doubt that an event where basketball unites everyone I know under my roof has become my favorite event of the year.

As regular season play wraps up and the Madness inches closer, I become more and more upset about missing it. While I’ve known this day would come for over a year, that doesn’t make it any easier to walk (or fly) away from it all.

I won’t just miss the first 48 games of the tournament: I’ll miss all the little traditions that accompany them at Opening Weekend.

I’ll miss the annual hilarious fire-up emails my dad sends to all of his friends and me. I’ll miss writing down predictions before every game for a chance to win a shirt or a hat from one of the teams in the tournament. I’ll miss the much-anticipated Dads vs. Kids games. We kids could have taken the title this year, I know it. I’ll miss seeing the March Madness regulars, the adults who are there year after year. I’ll miss turning my bedroom and the adjacent guest room into a campground for those looking to crash at the basketball Mecca that my house becomes during those four days. Hell, I’ll even miss the monstrous clean-up – last year, I believe our trash and recycling total reached over two dozen bags in four days, a fact I’m ashamed to be a little proud of.

Here’s the worst of it: I won’t even get to fill out a bracket. Selection Sunday happens when I’m in Europe. But 5000 miles and limited access to basic media outlets is not going to stop me from getting my Madness fix. My dad already bought me a dinky pay-by-the-minute phone so he can text me all the scores as they happen. And I will take advantage of free Wi-Fi whenever I can find it in Italy to check ESPN or watch broadcasts online.

If I love this party so much, why would I miss it? Because, it’s Italy, and I would be remiss if I didn’t include “Traveling” in the top five of that same list of things I love. The choice between Italy and March Madness was really one between two of my favorite things. So why did I choose Italy? Because the trip to Italy is a one-time offer, and I’ll be damned if I don’t take it. Now having seen a preview of our trip at a meeting in the auditorium last Monday night, I know I made the right choice.

So, I’ll have to make the best of things without March Madness while I’m in Italy. But part of me knows that when I get there that I’ll forget all about it. Something tells me that Italy can do that to someone.

Senior spring break, however, will be an entirely different story. You better believe I’m ending my break early to throw one last blowout Opening Weekend party.

And when I do, I’d better see you there.