A Cinderella of a Different Sort

When asked to think about a story I’m familiar with, I thought through various movies, plays and books I’ve read but none seemed to quite hit the mark in the way I envisioned. Since the theme of my blog is spring (despite the snow outside) I thought about what was happening during springtime that could be reflected in the types of stories Mr. Vonnegut spoke of. March Madness has seemed to overtake our household, so I began to think about all of the “Cinderella Stories” we hear about when it comes to college basketball. It reminded me of all of the teams that were expected to be knocked out in the first round and have succeeded, as underdogs, over their competitors. This led me to remember a time in 2006 when our very own Mason Patriots had their own Cinderella story and made it to the Final Four.

The diagram below illustrates this very story in a shape as described by Vonnegut.

A Story of Patriots


Not surprisingly, it has a similar shape to the original “Cinderella Story” although because Mason didn’t win the championship, and has yet to make it that far in the tournament again, the team did not find eternal bliss. However, other than that, the team did find a unique opportunity in making the tournament, step by step continued to progress until they historically reached the Final Four, but were eventually defeated. Although they have yet to see that kind of success again, the university reaped the benefits of being a known university to young applicants, and the coach eventually got offered a position in sunny Miami. To create the shape of the story above, I used PowerPoint insert shape and text tools and pulled the Mason logo from the University website.

When reading the 22 Rules of Storytelling Pixar Uses to Create Compelling Stories, the first one really stood out as a characteristic of this story. “#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.” In this case, the character is the George Mason basketball team who surpassed all expectations. Despite not making it to the championship, or winning the tournament overall, the team came back to a supportive campus and loyal fans who saw that the accomplishment of the team far exceeded what was anticipated and found that fact to be worthy of support and admiration.

This is more fully realized in the story spine format below.

  • Once upon a time the Patriots were an average NCAA team in the CAA.
  • Every day since 1997, head coach Jim Larranaga led them in practice and games without much expectation.
  • But one day although the team lost to Hofstra during the CAA tournament, George Mason was still able to grab an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.
  • Because of that the at-large selection of teams from mid-major conferences (which included George Mason) to the tournament was criticized by media personalities.
  • Because of that the Patriots were dubbed the underdogs when they entered the tournament as an 11th seed and defeated the 6th seeded Michigan State Spartans. They continued to find success beating team after team.
  • Because of that success, the Patriots were the first team out of the CAA to reach the Final Four.
  • Until finally George Mason’s Cinderella story ended in Indianapolis, when the eventual National Champion Florida Gators defeated them 73–58 on April 1, 2006.
  • And ever since then, despite their loss, many sports analysts considered their performance in the 2006 tourney to be the best run by a mid-major in tournament history. Coach Larranaga received many awards for that year and went on to be offered a coaching job in Miami.

This story is a great illustration of the methods we watched and read about this week. It is a story of perseverance and accomplishment against all odds.



6 thoughts on “A Cinderella of a Different Sort

  1. A rather original approach to apply the story/shape and spine. You should know that one of my rules is that you are welcome to change the aspects of an assignment if you explain it and do something interesting. So to trace the shape of the story of a basketball team in lieu of a movie or book is a big win in my book.

    One could say that the this shape could also be broken down into much more detailed shapes of each game in that season as a story too. I gather you may have even gotten the idea from what has become a well known phrase for a team to be a “Cinderella” at the NCAA Ball (is Duke the evil step sister… oh dear, they already have been tossed out this year).

    What does it mean for us as “readers” of this story to feel strong emotions when a team like Mason has a chance for the big dance?

    I’m really glad to see this kind of thinking, and that you are doing well to include hyperlinks to related content.

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  3. I love your post! The title definitely caught my attention and the blog post did not disappoint. Not only was the analysis detailed, the post was timely and tied to what else the reader may be hearing and seeing in the media so it makes it even more relevant to them.

  4. I’m a little conflicted on this one–I went to UConn for undergrad and while I do love me a good Cinderella story, I have to say I was less than pleased about losing to GMU! Regardless of my basketball preferences, though, I think you did a great job laying out the shape of this story. However, there are a couple things I would add. First, you mention that the university reaped the benefits, but you don’t link to any evidence of that. It is a fairly broad claim and it would be nice to see something (a website, a chart, etc.) that backs up that fact. Second, it took me a minute to understand the “steps” in your Vonnegut diagram. Since you are annotating certain specific points in time, I would also include that those are the individual games GMU won during the tournament. But over, I think you did a great job!

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