Team play key to organizing annual college hoops tourney in Delhi
By John Bernhardt
When the final horn sounded and the players from the NJCAA Division III, National Champion North Lake College basketball team celebrated their victory in an impromptu mosh pit at center court of SUNY Delhi‚Äôs Clark Gymnasium Saturday night, the hard work of another group of champions was not yet done.
For 18 years, SUNY Delhi has been the only home of the NJCAA‚Äôs Division III National Championships. In fact, of the many championships in college athletics, the Delhi site of the NJCAA Men‚Äôs Basketball finals boasts the fourth longest run. Year after year, a behind-the-scenes legion of volunteer workers provides Delhi with the capacity of hosting this Cadillac of basketball events. The quality of their performance speaks for itself. Time after time, NJCAA officials select Delhi over other colleges hoping to pry the championship event away from our Delaware County college.
It all started 18 years ago when the National Junior College Athletic Association expanded their one-division format to three divisions. Hutchinson, Kansas was the annual home of the men‚Äôs basketball tournament at the time. When the decision was made to break NJCAA teams into three divisions, two additional host sites for the men‚Äôs basketball finals were needed.
The NJCAA Associate Director, Wayne Baker, gave former Delhi Athletic Director Gary Cole a call and inquired about the possibility of SUNY Delhi hosting the Division III Championships. Cole put in motion a planning network to cover all bases that first year. That blueprint has survived the test of time with tournament teams now making their March sojourn to Delhi every year.
‚ÄúWe had a huge organizing committee that first year,‚Äù remembered Glen Reynolds, one of the original team members who helped plan the inaugural tourney. Reynolds, a retired admissions counselor at SUNY who now serves as the counselor at Andes Central School, is still part of the annual planning effort. ‚ÄúThat original group has evolved into a team of about eight people who work on planning the tourney each year.‚Äù
Reynolds credits Associate Tourney Director Barbara Sturdevant with playing a huge roll in making the tournament a success. ‚ÄúBarbara has been at the heart of the effort for 18 years,‚Äù praised Reynolds. An accounting professor at the college, Sturdevant‚Äôs management skills and ability to handle nuts and bolts issues are paramount in the smooth operation of the annual event.
Each committee member heads up a team of volunteers to handle various tournament functions. For example, Reynolds‚Äô responsibility is game operations. Shot clock operators, public address announcers, scorekeepers and spotters, statisticians, ticket sales staff, and door supervision all fall under Reynolds‚Äô responsibilities. Generally, a minimum of three people for each function is required to cover all the contests during the four-day event. Other functions include tasks like budgeting and finance or advertising and programs. Behind the scenes some 70 to 80 people log volunteer hours to make sure the tournament runs without a hitch.
‚ÄúOne of the wisest decisions we made that first year was to assign a host to each team participating in the tournament,‚Äù Reynolds emphasized. Once the field of teams is identified, a team host is assigned to assist each school‚Äôs planning effort. Team hosts are the local contacts who match out-of-town guests with local services during their four-day stay.
‚ÄúNo rock is unturned,‚Äù noted Reynolds. Hosts handle a long list of game accommodations that include making sure uniforms and socks are laundered after every contest. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve had hosts meet their team at the Syracuse Airport to guide them back to Delhi,‚Äù marveled Reynolds.
The tournament kickoff each year is a banquet for 180 people prepared by the College Association Auxiliary Ser-vices. A full slate of four games is held Thursday through Saturday with the National Champions crowned after the final contest on Saturday. Delhi Athletic Director Mike Spisto is the tournament director. The athletic director‚Äôs secretary, Lynn Oles, is another key tournament organizer.
Some services at one time covered by the volunteer core have been outsourced over the years. Game statistics are a critical part of the event. For the first 15 years of the tournament, four statisticians were assigned to each game, two covering the game stats of each team. Those responsibilities are now handled exclusively by Larry Danforth, a recent graduate of RIT with a master‚Äôs degree in applied statistics.
Danforth, who‚Äôs dad was once the men‚Äôs coach at Corning Community College got his start taking statistics at his dad‚Äôs games at the age of 12. When Corning visited Delhi, Danforth‚Äôs statistical work on the computer caught the eye of Delhi‚Äôs AD Gary Cole. Cole asked the statistician if he would like to take stats for the tournament. At first Danforth refused because he served that role at the Women‚Äôs Division III Championships the same time each year in Corning. But, when the ladies‚Äô tournament moved away from the Glass City, Danforth made the jump to Delhi.
Dave Geasey, the director of creative media services, at SUNY Oneonta, works with a team of students from his Multi-Camera Production class to provide video streaming back to each participating school‚Äôs campus. SUNY students pursuing mass communication degrees hone behind the scene production skills filming and producing the event. A liberal arts degree, mass communications is an all-encompassing program including television, announcing, writing, audio and broadcast production and radio. When available, student announcers or local radio personalities broadcast the play-by-play for the video feeds.
Looking back over time, Reynolds recounted huge crowds in the early years. During those years there were only seven NJCAA regions and the host school was awarded the eighth spot on the tournament bracket. Eventually, an eighth region was added, so Delhi lost their automatic bid.
North Lake College is the fourth Texas school to win the event over 18 years. Sullivan County Community College has won more men‚Äôs basketball championships than any other NJCAA Division III school, taking the national title four times.
Lone Star stand
Conventional wisdom before the start of Saturday‚Äôs NJCAA National Champ- ionship game at SUNY Delhi had many fans predicting Joliet Community College would win the crown. The Wolves had the tournament‚Äôs most gifted raw talent in Ryan Owens, a rugged outside sharp shooter in Adam Short, and an athletic herd of fast-breaking, running thoroughbreds.
Yet, in the end, it was the disciplined play of North Lake College from Irving, Texas, that prevailed. North Lake became the fourth Texas team to win the NJCAA National Championships, outlasting their Illinois competitors, 73-70, in an exciting tournament finale.
Inspired second half play by Joliet guard William Bills sparked a Wolves‚Äô rally. Driving hard along the baseline, Bills dished three passes to a cutting Marcus Moore for driving scores. The diminutive Bills, buried three, second-half, three-point goals, the last an NBA bomb late in the game that cut the North Lake lead to 69-67. That was as close as the Wolves would get.