2022 Skylark Classic
Why is this called 'The Skylark Classic' ?
Selection Sunday:
March 13 @ 6:00 pm CST
Entry Deadline:
March 17 @ 11:15 am CST
  The Origins of The Skylark  
By Dan Flaherty (2003)

2018 Follow up: Bob Dorn Tribute
 
       Great powers are born of tiny beginnings. It was thirteen ragtag colonies that founded the United States of America. It was an obscure Jewish rabbi and twelve misfit followers from which the Catholic Church sprang forth. Perhaps most importantly, it was in the hidden vestibule of Bob Dorn's Oconomowoc High School accounting class that nine students of questionable merit started an innocent basketball pool that is today the defining mark of March for hundreds across the Midwest and beyond.
     Surely many of the participants who have filled out their bracket and dreamt of cashing in on Monday night have wondered a simple question--"How on earth did this pool ever become named 'The Skylark Classic'?" It began with an innocent joke made during that inaugural pool in 1988 that the founders simply beat to death until it became a name onto itself. The original event required only a $1 entry fee, and with just nine dollars at stake it was more pride than dollars that motivated the first settlers of this pool. There was one exception to that rule--Bob Dorn himself was quite fixated on winning the financial prize, so much so that those of us in competition with him wondered why a salaried instructor could possibly want nine bucks from his class that badly. One contestant joked-"Maybe he's thinking that if he wins he'll go buy that new Skylark." The joke sustained itself and by the early 1990s the name was here to stay.
     The common reference point for the first Skylark year is 1994--that was when the pool's competitors began numbering in the thirties. However in the early years there were still memorable moments--one of which helped seal the name "Skylark" for good.
     From 1990-92 the pool was sustained by a mere four players--Steve Rhoads, Jamie Crowley, this writer and Tim Finley fought for the stakes. Finley--who would subsequently travel to Japan and has not competed since that time--emerged as the dominant force and in 1991 did the unthinkable and picked a perfect Final Four. Finley also won the prize in 1990 and 1992. Ironically the vehicle he drove was indeed a Skylark. To cap off his epic '91 run, he and the writer went to the Final Four at the Hoosier Dome, and as he pointed out--we were driving the Road to Indianapolis behind the wheel of a Skylark.
     1994 saw the expansion and a unique phenomena began to manifest itself--the preponderance of women enjoying great success and winning the event. Karen Hoffman, Pam Rapshard and Tracey Abel had the opportunity to take home the keys. Yet no woman has marked her place in history more clearly than the Madonna of Morgan Road, Ms. Donna Flaherty.
     Donna showed her ruthlessness in '94 when a Duke-Arkansas final game had her needing a Razorback win to defeat her son Bill for the top prize. Though the young man was desperately in need of money to get hiking boots for a summer trip, Donna leapt for joy when Scotty Thurman's rainbow three-pointer down the stretch gave her and Arkansas the title. Bill fell out of the money and Tom Hoffman finished second.
     Hoffman was positioned to win the title in '99, needing only favored Duke to beat UConn in the final. Yet Donna's chances of a second Skylark were staked on the Huskies, and when the 77-74 upset went down poor Tom Hoffman was again gnashing his teeth as he was runner-up to his nemesis in what became the pool's first great rivalry.
     Donna is the only person to win the event twice and she tacked on a money-producing finish in 2001, thus rendering her more effective than Hillary Rodham Clinton in the cause of women's equality. The Skylark has truly been an event conducted in the spirit of Title IX.

     The Skylark's defining innovation has been its brilliant "Multi-Plex" scoring system, that has ensured dramatic finishes and encouraged the selection of upsets--"It really sounds more complicated than it is", reads the words that so many new participants have consoled themselves with upon receipt of their bracket sheet and invitation. The explanation of the system itself is elsewhere on this site, but the fundamental concept combines both the round and the seed number of the victorious team to determine how many points are awarded for a correct selection.
     It was in the Dark Ages of the 1980s that so many of us grew up playing in pools that simply awarded one point for each correct--the old way gave the same reward for picking the winner of the championship game six rounds in advance as it did for picking the winner of a first round bout between Duke and Winthrop. The Skylark Founders saw clearly that such a system was raw madness.
     The original reform began to award points 1 thru 6, with each round being worth one additional point. Yet the early pilgrims still noted that this did not adequately reward the person that dared to pick an upset. The built-in incentive to simply play the favorites led to further reforms. By 1994 the Multiplex was in place and the bad old days of a scoring system that favored conservative selection strategy was over.

     Today the Skylark participants number in the hundreds. We make our picks online and the entrants from across the nation. The pool is the buzz among those that otherwise don't watch basketball and its memorable moments are part of the game's lore. Some might long for the simpler days of the accounting classroom, but as one of the original founders I do not share those sentiments. Even for those who love basketball and find the female dominance maddening, this is truly the greatest show on earth. This piece is of course dedicated to the one deceased member of the list of champions--Carl Buss, 1997 Skylark, R.I.P.
 
 
  Dan Flaherty is the editor of many different websites including The Sports Notebook