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Note: This article appears in the Fall 2010 issue of NCAA Champion magazine.
By Greg Johnson
Spreading the word that all three 2010 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championships would be played in Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium began a year in advance.
More than 40,000 student-athletes compete in 88 NCAA-sponsored championships every year.
Host institutions, conferences and NCAA staff are dedicated to ensuring that all of them experience a quality atmosphere from the moment selections are announced to the final whistle.
But membership personnel aren’t the only ones dedicated to excellence. Local organizing committees and legions of volunteers, official scorers, groundskeepers, marketing specialists and tournament directors all are working diligently behind the scenes.
All of those personnel must work together to ensure that every NCAA championship runs smoothly and that the young men and women who advance to the highest stages of their respective sports can concentrate on competing. The contributions of staff and volunteers are meaningful and varied, and their duties often call for them to address the unexpected. Here are some of their stories.
Susan Ward, a volunteer at the Division II Men's Golf Championships.
Susan Ward spends plenty of time at golf courses. All three of her children – Sean, Molly and Ryan – and her husband, Kevin, play the game, as does she.
The Wards are members of the Jack Nicklaus-designed Sagamore Golf Club, which hosted the 2010 Division II Men’s Golf Championships in May in Noblesville, Indiana.
Susan, like many of the Sagamore members, volunteered to work the event.
“I was flexible and was willing to do whatever they needed me to do,” Ward said. “I was willing to spot, keep score or whatever they needed. I walk with my kids when they are playing in their tournaments. It’s kind of my summer job. I love being out on the golf course.”
Her job during the championships turned out to be a shuttle driver. After the players completed the ninth hole, they piled into a cart and Ward drove them to the 10th tee.
“It is a good distance they would have to walk, and the shuttle helped with the pace of play,” Ward said. “The players could also grab a drink or a snack before we headed over to the next tee.”
She was impressed with the players’ demeanors.
“It was amazing to see how nice they all were,” Ward said. “A player may have double-bogeyed the ninth hole, but he would still be gracious. They would tell me how beautiful the course is.”
The Indiana Sports Corporation, which coordinates and markets major amateur sporting events in the state, makes it easy to find volunteers from the Indianapolis area. About 160 people asked to work the Division II Men’s Golf Championships.
“We’ve been using an online registration system since 2005,” said Sheila Bradley, the volunteer service director for the Indiana Sports Corp. “We’ve incorporated a system where they can select the events they are interested in. When we develop volunteer positions, we send out another message inviting them to sign up for actual jobs and times.”
Bradley said the area is full of people who love sports and are looking for a way to serve the community.
Dan Witt, the head professional at Sagamore, which opened in 2003, said it was easy getting members to work the championships.
“The overwhelming majority were excited to have this championship come to the club,” Witt said. “The exposure is good for us.”
The only downside was the rainy weather that struck during the four-day event. Nicklaus designed the course to play firm and fast, but Mother Nature had other plans.
“I heard only good things from the players, though,” Witt said. “Our goal was that they would feel like they were playing in a national-championship setting.”
From all accounts, that mission was accomplished.
After nearly two feet of snow hit Salem, Virginia, Division III Football Championship fans were not disappointed.
The crew faced a flaky challenge from above at the 2009 Division III football final in Salem, Virginia.
Roanoke Valley weatherman Robin Reed called Carey Harveycutter, the director of civic operations in Salem, Virginia, and tournament director for the Division III Football Championship, on Thursday, December 17, just two days before the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. The message: Computer models were forecasting 18 to 20 inches of snow at Salem Stadium by game time.
As a lifelong Salem resident, Harveycutter is accustomed to unexpected or unreliable forecasts. In fact, just a few years earlier, he tarped the field after hearing Reed insist that the area was in for only a dusting. Instead, Harveycutter and his staff woke up to 10 inches of snow.
“Many times they close schools here because we’re going to have this horrible snow, and it just doesn’t happen,” Harveycutter said. “We began to hold out hope that maybe this wasn’t going to happen, but when Reed said he was pretty sure of this one, we backed it up with the folks at the National Weather Service.”
Ten inches of snow is one thing, but double that and there’s potential for disaster. Lucky for Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union, the participating teams in the 2009 final, Harveycutter took Reed’s words to heart and prepared his crew for the nearly two feet of snow that hit Salem on Friday and Saturday.
Harveycutter is no stranger to unforeseen challenges at NCAA tournaments. He began working at the Salem Civic Center as a high school student at the age of 16. He’s come a long way from his days of helping record baseball statistics. Salem hosted its first Stagg Bowl in 1993 and has hosted all 16 since.
In addition to the Stagg Bowls, Harveycutter and the city of Salem have hosted 60 NCAA championships. When asked about memorable championship moments, he reminisced about the first year Salem hosted a lacrosse championship. A team bus couldn’t quite make the tight turn into the Roanoke College facility, running over a foam rock placed to cover a water line. The result was a broken pipe, which flooded the creek in the area and caused a water shortage in the bathrooms at the softball facility. However, Harveycutter and his crew brought in temporary facilities for the teams.
With so much crisis-management experience, Harveycutter took the snow in stride. That was even true when, after nearly 10 hours of plowing, his staff at the stadium awakened him at 2:30 a.m. to let him know they weren’t sure they could get the job done.
They did get the job done, however, and the show went on. Perhaps this was partially because Harveycutter went to the semifinal game at Whitewater the week before and observed how crews there expertly dealt with 17.4 inches of snow they were handed.
Shonna Brown, assistant director of championships at the NCAA, met Harveycutter at the field at 5:30 a.m. with Joy Solomen, chair of the Division III Football Committee; Brad Bankston, commissioner of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference; and John Saunders, assistant director of civic facilities in Salem, to make the call on when the game could happen. Consulting Reed one last time, they learned the storm was just crossing the North Carolina border, meaning the snow in Salem should cease by 9 a.m.
Concerned with the student-athletes’ safety, Brown recommended playing the game at 4 p.m., which would give crews until 2:30 p.m. to prepare the field.
The game was played at 4 p.m., and while both schools lacked marching bands, they had cheerleaders and fans.
“The reward was the kids going out on the field and the coaches saying the playing conditions were perfect,” Harveycutter said afterward. “But you know, when it comes right down to it, it is our job to have this field playable. Under these circumstances it is above and beyond, but it is our job to provide a quality atmosphere and a field that does not decide the championship.”
Eddie Warczak and his crew remained busy throughout the 2010 Division III Baseball Championship in Grand Chute, Wisconsin.
When you are in charge of preparing a baseball diamond for 15 games over a five-day period, long work days are normal.
For the past six years, Eddie Warczak has taken on this challenge at the Division III Baseball Championship in Grand Chute, Wisconsin. He is the head groundskeeper at Fox Cities Stadium, which has hosted the event since 2000.
This year’s tournament ran May 28-June 1, and Warczak was in charge of making sure the field was in the best
“It’s all kind of a blur,” Warczak said. “Every day runs into the next. As long as it doesn’t rain, it’s not too bad.”
The 2010 Division III Baseball Championship was unique in that there were no rain delays. Usually, Memorial Day weekend brings a lot of tarp pulls for Warczak and his crew of Dan Crockett, intern Jake Hannes, and part-timers Mark Pauley and Derek Loda.
Even without rain, the work hours are exceedingly long. Typically, Warczak and his crew are at the stadium, also home to the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, by 5 a.m., and some nights they don’t get home until 3 a.m.
“It’s just enough time to get a little nap, and then you are back at it,” Warczak said. “We all live close to the stadium.”
Warczak, who grew up in nearby Oshkosh, has a list of duties for the crew to follow during the tournament. For instance, he mows the outfield at the beginning of the day and takes care of the mound and the skin part of the infield between games.
The Timber Rattlers play 70 home games in their minor-league season, but the Division III Baseball Championship is a different challenge for Warczak.
“We’re doing the same things we always do, but it gets more hectic with this tournament,” Warczak said. “We get 10 minutes between games to get the field ready. During that time, we repair the mound and the home plate area. We also drag the infield.”
After both teams have warmed up, the grounds crew has about 20 minutes to repaint the foul lines and batter’s box. They also put as much water on the field as possible.
“It’s not enough time because the infield will be bone dry in about an hour,” Warczak said.
During the games, most of the crew tries to catch up on sleep in Warczak’s office, but one person has to watch in case the field needs repair.
“When I walk by that office, it isn’t a surprise they have the light turned off to catch a little shut-eye,” said Aaron Hahn, the assistant general manager of the Timber Rattlers. “I feel for those guys. Some of our other staff members are here for long hours, but those guys are here more than anyone.”
When the umpire yelled, “Play ball!” at the Division III tournament, the field was already ready.
The goal of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission is to make northeast Ohio the nation’s foremost destination for amateur sporting events.
To achieve such a high standard, the area has hosted numerous NCAA championships in recent years, including the Division III Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships in May in nearby Berea.
Baldwin-Wallace, whose track and field coach Bill Taraschke was the tournament director, collaborated with the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission to bring the event to the Cleveland area.
“We had great ancillary events and marketed the heck out of it,” said Robert Marron, the vice president of sports development for the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. “Some of the officials said this was one of the best-run Division III championships they had been involved with. That makes
you feel good.”
Marron’s organization recruits volunteers and sets up the hotels, transportation and all the hospitality events for the student-athletes, coaches and fans. The Greater Cleveland area also hosted the Division III Cross Country Championships and the Division III Women’s Volleyball Championship last November and the Division III Men’s Tennis Championships in May.
“Becoming an NCAA Championship City was something we definitely wanted,” Marron said of the NCAA program that named six cities (Indianapolis; St. Louis; Cary, North Carolina; San Diego; and San Antonio are the others) to host multiple events over three years. “It is important to be able to prove that you deserve to be chosen as one of those cities.”
In the future, Greater Cleveland will be a preliminary-round site for the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, as well as for the 2011 women’s gymnastics and the 2012 women’s bowling finals.
“We’ve built a great rapport with the NCAA institutions in northeast Ohio,” said Marron, a former employee of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. “It’s enabled us to host NCAA championships, and it has also helped out from a community standpoint. We understand the mission of each institution.”
It has also created opportunities for membership institutions to partner with Marron’s organization in other ways.
“We’ve worked with them on internship programs,” Marron said. “We’ve gotten out and spoken with sports management classes, too. There have been some community-based events that the entire region of northeast Ohio has worked to develop. We’ve called each other and said, ‘We need you at the table to push this initiative,’ and it has happened.”