Friday, April 2, 2010

Jacksonville’s Post-Season Experience – Both Home and Away

While Coach Warren and the men’s basketball team were traveling to Arizona and Texas for their post-season games, the city of Jacksonville was preparing to host the first and second round of the NCAA tournament. For so many student-athletes, this time of year offers unforgettable moments, and for that reason, we at JU welcomed the opportunity to work with the eight colleges and universities from across the country to make their NCAA Tournament experience as memorable as possible.

To make that happen though, it took a lot of time and effort. Those sitting in the stands at the Veterans Memorial Arena or watching on television saw the action happening on the court, but the work it took to get the teams situated and the behind-the-scenes process involved action of a different sort. Here is how some of the JU staff remembered the week:

Athletic Director Alan Verlander:

"The tournament was literally one of the busiest times in my life. Four years ago, when Jacksonville was a host city, it was crazy, but this time around, we added to the insanity because the Dolphins were still playing in the postseason, so we were forced to balance the schedules of our own team, plus the schedules of the eight participating NCAA teams.

The best example of this craziness happened on Selection Sunday. We didn’t know that we would be traveling to Arizona until 3 a.m Monday morning…..and then we had to be on a plane eight hours later. I know a number of other teams were scrambling just as much as us.

With all that said, the entire week was great (well, except for the outcome of the Texas Tech game). Those moments of calm before the doors were opened to the public, when the carpet was vacuumed, the court was clean, the media was tame and the TV lights weren’t on allowed you to just take everything in. Once the doors opened though, watch out....I do remember telling my colleague Joel Lamp on our way to Texas though, “you know, this is chaos, but imagine all the people who think that we have the coolest job. We are so fortunate to have the experiences and we won’t appreciate them until a month or two from now.”

Kim Hernandez, Assistant Vice President of the JU Alumni Office, was on-site at the arena most of the week as a Band/Cheerleader Liaison. Here is how she remembered her time:
"Well, aside from seeing all sorts of celebrities, such as Jim Nantz , Pat Riley, Adam Duritz (the Counting Crows singer is a HUGE Cal fan), and Maurice Jones-Drew, I think my favorite story from the week was when I was walking out of the tunnel where the teams run out and there was a group of four 10-year-old boys hanging over from the stands waiting for autographs/high-fives/even a glimpse of a favorite player or coach. As I was rushing hurriedly onto the floor at a million miles an hour, they said “oh, oh, oh…over here,” motioning for me to fist bump them. I said “oh guys, I’m nobody,” to which they responded, “nooooooo…..you ARE somebody cool to us!” It was a really cute moment and shows the NCAA Tournament experience isn’t just about the games."
The Alumni Office's Pat Reeves was a team host, working primarily with the University of Arkansas – Pine Bluff on their stay:
“The team, coaches and band all stayed at a hotel right on the ocean, and for some of them, it was the first time they had visited a beach. The band members had no idea they would be that close to the ocean and hadn’t even packed bathing suits, so we had to make a run to a local department store. They had such a blast that they even rehearsed on the beach because they wanted to take every opportunity to stay outside.

But more so, the memory I will take with me is how excited the community was to welcome the teams. Al’s Pizza, which was right near the hotel, closed off half their restaurant to serve the team and Sonny’s BBQ remained open late in order to feed the team after practice. Oh, and the coach’s wives really liked the crab cakes at the Sun Dog Diner. They ate their twice.”

The competition in Jacksonville, much like the other NCAA Tournament sites throughout the country, left some joyous and some heartbroken, but it is clear that the experience is what really matters. Congratulations to all the teams and thank you for playing hard in our city.

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