CORNWALL – There are sports enthusiasts. And there are sports enthusiasts.
And then there is Billy Carpenter.
While many are passive, Carpenter is an active sports fan – a proactive one. Carpenter prefers to be as close to the action as he possibly can, even a part of it, as much as the action allows.
Since the late 1980s, Carpenter has embarked on an annual pilgrimage to the mecca of basketball. While there are no altars or sacrificing of living beings involved, Carpenter does worship the game he loves there.
Carpenter has attended, witnessed and viewed, in person, a total of 27 NCAA Final Fours – all but one over the last 28 years. For the retired life-long politician and Lebanon County commissioner, watching at home on TV from the sofa just doesn’t cut it.
Over the past three decades, Carpenter has been emotionally attached to some of the greatest championship and semifinal games that the NCAA Division One Men’s Basketball national tournament has produced.
“I like it,” said Carpetner. “It’s a good sporting event. We stay busy. We do a lot of things before and after the event. When we’ve gone, I’ve never not gone into the game. One time, we sat in George Steinbrenner’s seat.
“We’ve gone to at least five presidential libraries during our trips,” added Carpenter. “If it falls over Easter, we go to church on Sunday. And we eat very, very well, more Italian than anything. Everything falls into place it seems.”
Carpenter’s yearly journey to the Final Four began in 1988 as part of a trip organized by late Lebanon dentist Donald Gigler. Over the last dozen or so years,Carpenter has made the ultimate road trip with colleagues and local businessmen George Christianson, Gary Matthews and Bob Phillips.
That’s the so-called inner-circle. Members of the Lebanon Final Four’s extended family have come and gone over the years, but anyone’s welcome. The only requirement is a love of the game, and a wad of cash.
“We didn’t care who came along,” said Carpenter, 70. “We never had tickets. The first year we had tickets was this year. We would go to the Final Four and scalp.
“No, I never thought I’d be doing it this long,” Carpenter added. “Gigler dropped out 12 years ago, and we picked up Phillips as the fourth.”
At one time frowned upon and even dangerous, scalping tickets is now a much more acceptable practice in our society. But it remains an adventure, to say the least.
So how much does Carpenter pay scalpers when he buys his tickets?
“Too much,” said Carpenter. “The least we’ve ever paid has probably been double. This year we paid too much, but it was five together, down low. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. This is my hobby, going to sporting events.
“I have three scalpers I deal with,” continued Carpenter. “But you’ve got to be careful. You better know who you are dealing with.”
Obviously Carpenter can spin yarn after yarn about his trips to Final Fours. He said this year’s championship game between Villanova and North Carolina, earlier this month, was one of the best he’s ever seen.
“That (Chris) Webber timeout (in the 1993 national championship game between Michigan and North Carolina), I’ll always remember,” said Carpenter. “I was at the Kentucky-Duke and (Christian) Laettner game in Philly (which did not take place in the Final Four), and I was this game (Villanova-North Carolina) this year. They say those were the two best games ever.
“This year’s trip (to Houston) probably ranks right up at the top,” Carpenter continued. “Having Evan (grandson, Dissinger) along with me made it special. He’s a North Carolina fan, so I was rooting for North Carolina. I would’ve been for Villanova. But the guys we were with were giving it to him (Dissinger).”
There are those who believe that the NCAA Final Four is among the greatest – if not The Greatest – spectacle in sports – and count Carpenter among them. Different cities, a variety of fan bases from all over the country, the excitement, the electricity, the atmosphere. Oh, and the celebrities.
“Everyone always says you can see it better at home on TV, but you don’t have the same feel,” said Carpenter, a native of Cornwall. “There’s something about being there.
“San Antonio is one of my favorites (host cities),” added Carpenter. “We’ve been there quite a few times. Indianapolis, we’ve been there the most. And we went to Seattle a few times. Sometimes the atmosphere depends on what teams are there. Everybody from Oklahoma stands the whole game. It drives you nuts.”
While the Final Four may be his favorite, Carpenter has also attended many other major sporting events – Super Bowls, World Series games, Penn State football national championship games and MLB All-Star games.
“When the Phillies are in the World Series, it’s great,” said Carpenter. “But I think I enjoy this more than Penn State’s two wins in national championship games. I just like sports. I’ve always been crazy about sports.”
So how long can Carpenter continue to gallivant across the country taking in major sporting events? He’ll know when the time to stop is right.
“It’s year-to-year,” said Carpenter. “I don’t know. I’m 70. George is 80. Gary’s 77. And Bob is the baby.”
And for some, age has very little to do with chronology.