With the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship just days away, host College of the Ozarks, as well as local businesses, are gearing up for when the 32 teams descend on the area.
“To us, it means the kick-off of spring,” said Tanger Outlets Branson General Manager Jamie Whiteis. “This year’s tournament runs March 6-12, but we’ll start seeing a few teams show up this Saturday and Sunday.”
It isn’t just the hundreds of players who bring an uptick in business to the area.
“We see a lot of family and fans shopping here,” he said.
Tanger isn’t just a place for players and fans to shop, but the outlet center is also one of many businesses that supports the tournament.
Athletic Director Al Waller is co-director of the tournament with Sports Information Director Candace Sullinger.
Waller said he is thankful for the way both College of the Ozarks and the Branson area work together during the tournament.
“Seeing how this has been a union (between) College of the Ozarks and the Branson community,” Waller said, “that’s something I really appreciate seeing. This college is such a big part of the community.”
Not only is the tournament affecting the campus, it is also aiding Branson’s economy.
An estimated 20,000 visitors come to the area each year specifically for the NAIA tournament, affecting the area businesses.
This may lead to certain sponsors continuing their involvement with the tournament.
“Eighty percent of the sponsors have been with us all 14 years,” Waller said.
This is the 14th year C of O has hosted the tournament, which utilizes approximately 500 volunteers. Sullinger said because the college is a work education school, some of the spots manned are by students at their workstation; however, 95 percent are volunteers. Some people enjoy volunteering so much that they have been since the first year, Sullinger said.
“In fact, I have a list of people who want to help, but (there are no) places for,” Sullinger said.
Dean of Work Education Chris Larsen said some students are able to bank work hours for helping at the tournament. Students volunteering must sign up for at least 8 hours to participate.
“The reason we do that is so we have them for a significant amount of time instead of them getting acclimated with what they’re trying to do,” Larsen said.
The tournament is a chance for students to show their “servant’s heart,” Larsen said.
“It’s just a great opportunity to showcase our students and what their capable of and just to make sure we can get the job done,” Larsen said.
Some of the tasks volunteers and workers are to help with are parking, concessions, crowd control and clean-up.
“If it weren’t for the students, we actually couldn’t pull it off,” Larsen said.
In addition to students, faculty and staff are helping out, as well.
Professor of Mathematics Jamie Fugitt volunteers her time to help with many tasks and has done so throughout the years. She said getting to help with the games is something she enjoys.
Once the tournament begins, the first and the last day are Sullinger’s favorite part of it.
“On the first day, once everyone is in place and I know everyone is where they should be and the first game starts, I breathe a sigh of relief,” Sullinger said. “(And on the last day), because it’s over.”
Tickets for this tournament are $15 for reserved seating and $10 for general admission. For more information about the upcoming games, call 417-335-6242 or visit cofo.edu.