The sound of rattling, thin metal, followed by a sharp snap echoed through the Fred Delay Gymnasium. No sooner than the tape measurer had retracted were the measurements taken down and a new task underway.
“There are just so many things that you wouldn’t think of right away that need to be done to prepare for the tournament,” said Steven Aldridge, sports information director.
Before the fleets of athlete-filled buses arrived, before the rows of hopeful fans filled the bleachers, many Union employees and students worked to ensure that every detail was taken care of.
One of those people was Aldridge, who said he was doing whatever he could to prepare for the weekend of tournament games along with Tommy Sadler, director of athletics. Sadler has spent many weeks “getting sponsors lined up, updating the gym, securing hotel accommodations for the visiting teams and answering any questions that people may have about what is going on,” Aldridge said.
This is the first year of NCAA tournament eligibility for Union, and the Lady Bulldogs earned the number one seed in the South Region of the Division II women’s basketball national tournament and the bid to host the tournament.
“It’s hard work, getting ready for this, but it’s so rewarding,” Aldridge said. “Friday when the tournament starts, that will be the fun part. Especially because it is the first year, that is exciting. To be completely honest, it is a little nerve racking, because it’s the first time for us to do it, but we have hosted numerous tournaments in the past with NAIA. This is just a new way of doing things, so we have to get on their page. We have to do the things the way the NCAA wants them done, so I think that’s been the biggest challenge.They run really great events, really successful events, so they want to make sure that we will do the work to make it great and successful, too.”
According to Aldridge, part of securing the tournament’s success was spending time gathering information for the application.
“There were many things that maybe people wouldn’t think of: the distance from the end line to the wall, from the sideline to the bleachers, how long is the scores table, what the candle wattage of the lights is just in case they choose to put one of these games on TV,” Aldridge said.
Many in the community have shown their excitement about the opportunity to host by volunteering their time.
“People in Jackson are just as excited as we are to be able to host this tournament,” said Julie Powell, professor of sport management. “The community loves women’s basketball, and we have a great team to love. They’ve done so well and I know many people were excited to come out and support them as fans, but also to volunteer to help make this week and weekend run smoothly.”
Along with many faculty, staff and community members, students have also been placed into volunteer positions.
Lydia Wright, senior public relations major, served as assistant media coordinator for the weekend, by helping Aldridge in the media room and updating the website after each tournament game. She, along with other sports management students, also handed out box scores and statistics to the teams and media people during the games.
Several athletic training major students were also put on rotation throughout the weekend to sit with the different teams and help with any athletic training needs they might have.
Just as the Lady Bulldogs successful season was created by multiple hands and feet, so was the success of the weekend of hosting.
“We are looking forward to hosting many more,” Aldridge said. “This wasn’t just something fun for us to do. It was an honor. We didn’t do it because we have the biggest gym or the shiniest stuff. We got to do it because our girls have worked incredibly hard this season, and to have an incredible community in the students, faculty and staff of Union and the people of Jackson is something that makes things like this that much more worth it.”