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March Madness creates new Holy Day in Cincinnati

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There are six Holy Days of Obligation in the Catholic church.

For the past 22 years, middle-aged, IT*-working men and women of all religious backgrounds have been gathering in the Greater Cincinnati Area to celebrate a seventh Holy Day. This day, which occurs during the Lenten Season, was celebrated on Thursday, March 16th this year.


The religion is college basketball, and while there is no omnipotent being–except maybe Mike Krzyzewski–the first day of the March Madness season is the second coming of basketball. The season has been drawn out, excitement has died and is now being born once again.

The Church, on the day before St. Patrick’s, is Mac’s Pizza Pub, located at the border of Mariemont and Fairfax on Wooster Pike.  

Mass lasts more than 12 hours. The Church opens at noon and the recessional hymn of “Closing Time” by Semisonic plays around one in the morning.

The feasting of a High Holy Day is intensified as IT pilgrims gorge themselves on chicken wings and pulled pork which comes straight from the barbequed pig rotating on display.

The bread and wine of Communion has been replaced with bar food and spirits as the new body and blood of this unusual religion.

Mariemont resident Steve Spooner started this celebration 22 years ago with friends and work colleagues as a way to play hooky from work to watch the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The celebration quickly rose in popularity and Spooner turned his way of getting out of work into a way of sharing work with pleasure.

At 1:30 PM on a Thursday, this bar’s parking lot is filled with businessmen and women (PHOTO BY ZACK).

The Holy Day of Obligation celebration has become one of the largest IT networking events of the season, according to The Holy Day of Obligation website. “Last year, we had over 1,200 people attend, and this year we are going to beat that,” said Spooner, who oversees sending out the online invitations. Spooner uses the pre-registered patrons to project the total attendance.  

Spooner and his team of event planners pull out all the stops for the celebration. The event is free to attend and everything (food and drinks) are paid for. Prepaid taxis are available all day with a 15-mile limit. All that the Holy Day of Obligation team asks of its attendees is to tip the workers and to donate to the charities.  

The website states that, “this free event will include the opportunity to support local charities.” There were three charities that the event helped raise money for. One was an organization that helps veterans in the Special Forces after they come back to the U.S. Another raised money for Children’s Hospital.

The charity that Spooner decided to raise money for was the Graham Harden Family Trust, also known as the G-Force Foundation, which raises money for Terrace Park Resident Graham Harden in his fight against ALS.

8 Mariemont seniors joined the 1,600 participants by playing hooky from the second half of the school day. Notes were giving to the main office from parents asking for “Drew to be excused for a Holy Day of Obligation,” wrote mother of Drew Fiorenza, Jen Fiorenza.

The seniors perched up in the 2,400-square-foot, heated tent at a table in front of the first of three flat screens broadcasting the first game of the day: Notre Dame vs. Princeton.

Senior Anthony DiMichele watched in horror as his beloved Fighting Irish narrowly escaped the first upset of the day. As DiMichele cheered, the majority of the tent let out a sigh—the crowd was rooting for upsets throughout the day.

As the first of three scheduled meals came out, the group of 8 flocked to the back of the tent where they were greeted by a buffet-style selection of hotdogs, hamburgers, and barbequed half-chickens.

There were raffles and games in which all the proceeds went to the G-Force Foundation.

The cornhole game, with the names of player’s scores on the leaderboard (PHOTO BY ZACK).

One of the games was cornhole, with the highest scores proudly on display. The rules were that the player gets 7 bags to throw with a chance to score 21 points (1 for the board, 3 for the hole). The closest to 21 by the end of the night received a rental Mercedes Benz car of their choosing for a weekend getaway, while second place took home a 55” Samsung Smart TV, and third received a $100 Amazon gift card.  

Another game was an online (appropriate at an IT event) game where the participants guessed the total score of all the games up into certain times of the day. The closest to the actual point amounts at the 2 PM, 4 PM, and 6 PM intervals were awarded $100 Amazon gift cards.

These sorts of activities were available all throughout the day.

The donations for the Harden Family surpassed $3,000 according to Spooner.

At 6:50 PM, the tent was filled with Xavier University fans cheering them on as they beat Maryland 76-65. A week later, it is as if nothing has changed. There are now less teams, but the small, Catholic, private college in Cincinnati is still alive.  

They now play tonight, exactly a week later, March 23rd, at 10:09 PM against ex-Xavier-head-coach Sean Miller and his Arizona Wildcats.

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March Madness creates new Holy Day in Cincinnati