Big Hoopla events showcase ‘Dayton’s collaborative spirit’ ahead of First Four



The Big Hoopla events surrounding the NCAA First Four kick off today ahead of the tournament at University of Dayton Arena later this week.

Hoopla events are designed to showcase “Dayton’s collaborative spirit, basketball unity and affinity” for U.S. military serving locally and around the world, officials said.

The first event is this morning’s 2024 Big Hoopla 4-Miler, a community run/walk that starts and ends near University of Dayton Softball Stadium offering skyline views, crossing the Great Miami River and passing Carillon Historical Park.

“The 4-miler is a great way to showcase the beginning of the basketball tournament because it emphasizes the community coming together for athletics, meaning run/walk with all kinds of partners, including military personnel, airmen, veterans, students from the Dayton region, business people and even some dogs,” said Sarah Spees, director of business development and projects at the Dayton Development Coalition and executive director of The Big Hoopla Inc.

All participants receive a super soft tech T-shirt, a custom finisher medal, free race photos and post-race food. Green beer will be available for 21-and-older runners to start off their St. Patrick’s Day.

The event has already seen more than 200 people register by the week before, the highest pre-registration ever since its inception in 2014, Spees said. Another 200 to 300 registrations are expected by the time the race starts, she said.

Today also will feature the 2024 Big Hoopla STEM Challenge, Championed by Wright State University at Dayton Convention Center. Designed for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, the event includes hands-on science, technology, engineering and math demonstrations, educational activities and two 45-minute shows with award-winning science entertainer Mister C and performances by Eric Energy.

“(Wright State) is a leader in STEM education and has committed to a three-year partnership with us, so they will have an amazing footprint of three or four university departments,” she said.

The event also will feature new entry Beta Technologies with its flight simulator, NASA Glenn Research Center and “a multitude of others,” Spees said.

In addition, the Big Hoopla STEM Teacher Of The Year will be honored during the STEM Challenge’s opening ceremony. The award recognizes “the great contributions K-8 teachers make in STEM classrooms in the Dayton region.”

By early last week, more than 500 students had already registered for this year’s STEM Challenge, the most ever at that point in the registration process, with another 500-plus expected to attend, she said.

“Part of our mission is supporting this youth STEM education so that these young students can also attend these games, understand the value and the commitment that our military makes and look at their career path as they choose schools to move forward in and the opportunities that exist to them,” Spees said.

The event’s scheduled keynote speaker is Lt. Gen. Donna Shipton, commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“She has just an amazing educational and leadership and service background along with an abundant amount of major awards and decorations and we are thrilled that we have her being our keynote speaker for those students,” Spees said.

A basketball “hot shot” contest features prizes awarded for each shot made. The 12 STEM Challenge winners (eight from the basketball hot-shot contest and four from the STEM exhibits) will win iPads and get to take their final basketball shots on the NCAA First Four court during halftime of the Tuesday night games.

“Their eyes are huge (when) they look up at the crowd,” Spees said.

New Air Force recruits will take the oath of office during halftime of the Wednesday night games.

Fans also can come to watch teams practice at UD Arena before the tournament begins. The free public event takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday and from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday. Doors open at 4 p.m. Monday and 11 a.m. Tuesday.

IF YOU GO: Big Hoopla Activities

The Big Hoopla 4-Miler starts at 9 a.m. at the UD Softball Fields near the UD Arena and finishes there. Park in the Arena Lot A, and not in the hotel lot. More information at

Big Hoopla STEM Challenge, Championed by Wright State University, Dayton Convention Center, 22 E. 5th St., Dayton. Free event. Registration is recommended and open at Day-of-event registration opens at 11 a.m. Opening ceremony at noon. Exhibits start at 1 p.m.


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