New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer is normally a mild-mannered fellow, but he says he goes a little crazy come mid-March.
"I get in a Maize Rage this time of year," he says, and he's not the only one who's seasonally affected. "The county's head of land use, Rich Hall, bleeds Carolina blue," Meyer says. "I am not sure what makes him happier - UNC wins, or Duke losses."
Marcus Wilson is co-founder and CEO of Healthcore, an Anthem Inc. subsidiary in downtown Wilmington. "We certainly have [office] brackets," he says, "and I'm for sure picking the Hokies to go deep in the field."
Some translation may be in order. Meyer is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, and Maize Rage refers to that school's colors and its rabid cheering section. Hall is a graduate of North Carolina, whose alumni are said to "bleed blue," the school's color. Duke is the Tar Heels' arch-rival. Wilson is a graduate of Virginia Tech - the Hokies. "We have a diverse group of fans [in the office] from VT to UNC to Villanova to FSU," he reports.
The cause for this enthusiasm is March Madness - the annual NCAA men's college basketball tournament, a social event as well as a sporting one. In many local business and government offices, Madness becomes the Kentucky Derby, Super Bowl and World Series all rolled into one.
The tournament involves 68 college teams playing 67 games over a period of 19 days. Everything begins March 17 - Selection Sunday. Fans watch, often in parties, to see if their favorite team is in the tournament and, if so, into which of four regional "brackets," how it is seeded or ranked and when it plays.
Even office workers who wouldn't know a crossover dribble from a pick and roll take part in viewing parties
or participate in betting pools.
Rebecca Parsons, who manages The Mill in midtown Wilmington, said sports activities are good networking devices. "Last year we did a pool," she said, and the winner was a tenant who runs a tea business.
At Martin Honda in Newark, car salesman Bruce Blake says co-workers "do a bracket every year."
Sometimes humor as well as money is involved. "The legal team at Chemours has always had a March Madness bracket," said Dave Shelton, senior VP and corporate counsel.
"This year we have about 60 people participating between our legal department and product stewardship," he said. "We have winners for each round of the tournament [who] receive gift cards. The loser has to place a portrait of me in their workspace for the rest of the year," a practice that has a backstory dating back to when Chemours was part of DuPont.
Ferris Home Improvements on Kirkwood Highway has an employee bracket. "Some of us go out and watch the games" - the Eastern regionals are in Washington this year - "but not a huge group," said owner Walter "Reds" Ferris. "And we have the TVs running during the day showing the games."
The advertising company Aloysius Butler & Clark gets creative about its Madness. "Opening day we sync up our three [regional] offices via video conference and show the games on all of our screens during the day,"
said Paul Pomeroy, who heads the Wilmington office.
Customers at sports-oriented bars and restaurants love March Madness. Marc Ashby, whose family owns Deer Park and McGlynns restaurants, says, "We usually post brackets up in the restaurants, and we show as many games as we can." Grotto Pizza, headquartered in Rehoboth Beach, offers a $500 customer store card for winner of its "March Mania" [correct] contest.
But not every company takes part. For some, especially financial institutions, it's a matter of image. A spokesperson for one midsize company says, "I don't think our higher-ups would want to promote any sort of gambling activity, legal or otherwise."
Manufacturing sites such as Procter & Gamble in Dover are also less likely to want employee distractions.
For others, there may be a lack of interest at the top. Incyte says it has no Madness activities planned, and one might guess it's because the pharmaceutical company's top execs earned degrees in France, the UK, China, Germany and South Africa. In other words, not in tournament territory.