For Worthington Christian alumni, NCAA tourney trips were short, but the memories of it last forever
By Paul Batterson, Contributing Writer
Nearly a decade later, Jason Dawson says the hairs on his arms still stand up every time he hears the theme song for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Dawson (WC ‘06) is one of three Worthington Christian alumni to have made it to the NCAA basketball tournament, joining sisters Audrey (Rettstatt) Rickly (WC ’13) and Bridgette Rettstatt (WC ‘17). Although none of them made it past the first round of their respective tournaments, all three have fond memories of the experience.
“I get chills every time March Madness comes up,” said Dawson, whose team lost to third-seeded and 12th ranked Wisconsin 53-49 in the first round of the 2010 East Regional in Jacksonville, Fla. “I still get chills thinking about it.”
“Playing in the NCAA tournament is something all athletes dream of,” said Bridgette, a sophomore at Liberty who was part of the Flames’ 2018 tournament appearance. “Growing up, I always remember watching March Madness and just aspiring to be there one day.”
Rettstatt, the Warriors’ all-time leading scorer with 1,716 points and who was named as the Ohio Division III Co-State Player of the Year as a junior and first team all-state as a senior, has the chance to do something her sister and Dawson didn’t have the opportunity to do. Rettstatt, who was named to the all-Atlantic Sun Conference’s second team after averaging 11 points and seven rebounds a game this season, had a chance to return to the Big Dance. The Flames just missed grabbing a tournament spot this year after losing to top-seeded Florida Gulf Coast 72-49 in the ASUN conference finals on March 17.
Rettstatt is hungry to get back to the tournament after losing to 12th ranked Tennessee 100-60 in Lexington, Kentucky, last year.
“Going to the NCAA tournament set the standard of what I want for my team every year,” she said. “It was such an amazing experience, and now I desire to continue to go further. I’m very excited for what is to come.”
Bridgette’s sister Audrey only made the tournament once in her career at Liberty as the Flames were snuffed out by 12th-ranked North Carolina 71-65 March 21, 2015, in Greensboro, N.C.
Bridgette said her sister didn’t give her any advice on what to expect in the postseason nor did she ask for any.
“Rather her effort was more of a standard I wanted to live up to,” Rettstatt said. “Growing up my sister showed me what it looked like to work hard and be dedicated to the things that matter, whether that was school or sports.”
EVERY DAY IS A PARADE
For Dawson, the lead up to the Terriers’ first-round game against the Badgers was almost as exciting as the game itself. On Selection Sunday, members of the team, along with 3,000 fans, gathered at the school’s AC Auditorium to find out who they were playing in the first round.
“When we were called, the place just went crazy,” said Dawson, whose team was seeded 14th. “We didn’t care who we were playing; we knew we had a chance. That was one of the best teams I have ever been on. Everyone related to each other. We did everything together. It was all unconditional love.”
Wofford was one of the smallest schools ever to make the field of 64 teams, but that didn’t keep the Terriers from being caught up in the enormity of the moment. Wofford arrived at Jacksonville four days ahead of their game with Wisconsin and found out everyone was engrossed in their story.
Dawson remembers Clark Kellogg, a former Ohio State basketball player and now the lead college basketball analyst for CBS Sports, coming up to speak to him in practice. Kellogg said, “We got a Columbus kid right here,” and talked about Dawson during the broadcast of the game.
“We were a hot commodity because we were the smallest college in the field that year,” Dawson said. “When you get to the actual arena to start practicing, cameras are everywhere. We had fans following us to the hotel, the gym and clapping us out to practice.
“When you’re in the tournament, you get a police escort everywhere you go as a team, whether it is to practice, the movies or to dinner. You don’t stop at any red lights during the tournament. Every day was a parade. It was exhilarating.”
And like many parades, it ended way too soon. Dawson made a cameo appearance in the first-round game, playing eight minutes and missing his only shot, a 3-point attempt that danced along the rim before falling off.
In his mind’s eye, Dawson still can picture that shot.
“I still see it, and I wish it would fall in every single time,” Dawson said with a laugh. “It just rimmed out, and I went, ‘awwwwwww.’
“When we lost, we walked off the court upset, but there were so many people who supported us. All of it was incredible. (The tournament) teaches you how to be humble but be proud and confident.”
Although Dawson was just a sophomore, the tournament game turned out to be his last game for Wofford. He transferred to Gardner-Webb and then finished his collegiate career at Mount Vernon Nazarene.
Now with D.O.S.E. Consulting, Dawson works with young players to develop their skills in basketball and life. He hopes to teach students how to make the most of every moment … whether it is on the court or off.
“It’s so easy to get lost in the moment … but I loved that moment,” Dawson said wistfully. “Now that I work with kids, I want them to experience that same environment.
“In a game like that, everything matters. When you are coaching kids, you teach them all the details matter in any situation. Being a part of that winning culture, I learned so much about basketball, about details and about being a part of the team. You learn how to carry yourself on and off the court. It teaches you a lot about character and life