First Four brings excitement, fans, $5.2 million impact to region

Opening games of NCAA tournament have been Dayton’s own for more than 20 years

As eight men’s college basketball teams head to Dayton today to start their NCAA tournament dreams in the First Four, Dayton residents were already busy starting the annual celebration Sunday.

* About 250 runners took on snow, cold and the “spring forward” time change Sunday morning to race the Hoopla 4-miler run near UD Arena.

* Another 100 people worked to get the arena ready for the First Four, switching out the basketball floor for a special NCAA version, putting up signs and cleaning the arena.

* Some 700 students signed up for the annual STEM Challenge (science, technology, engineering and math) at the Dayton Convention Center.

The First Four is estimated to have a $5.2 million impact on the Dayton region. That’s built mainly around the basketball games Tuesday and Wednesday night, but organizers aim to get people involved even if basketball’s not their thing.

“There are folks that aren’t interested in college basketball,” said Terry Slaybaugh, volunteer chair for the Big Hoopla, the nonprofit that organizes the race and STEM event. “We wanted to find a way to try to involve all of the community.”

UD Arena will host two First Four games Tuesday night and two more Wednesday night, with the winners advancing to the traditional first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday and Friday.

Tickets for the games at UD Arena are mostly sold out, according to Scott DeBolt, senior associate athlete director and tournament manager for UD. The tickets remaining are mostly team and sponsor holds. Some tickets will be available through resale on Ticketmaster when teams not in the First Four tournament, who had ticket holds, will release their tickets.

Norah Riedel, a second-grader from Oakwood, said she wasn’t necessarily interested in watching the First Four, though she knew her parents would be watching. But Norah said she liked science and was happy to be at the STEM Challenge downtown.

Sarah Spees, director of the Big Hoopla and business development-project manager of Dayton Development Coalition, said about 700 students signed up for the STEM Challenge, and two age group winners will be able to take a shot at the basketball hoop during a First Four game.

Opening round NCAA tournament games have been at UD Arena since they were introduced in 2001, and since they expanded to the First Four model in 2011. UD Arena has hosted the most NCAA tournament games of any site in the nation with 129 tournament games, DeBolt said.

Carolyn Rice, Montgomery County Commissioner, said it shows how special Dayton is, that the tournament keeps being held at UD arena.

“It gives us one more thing to be proud of, how you can entrust us with something big like this and we’ll roll out the red carpet to anybody coming from wherever they are coming,” Rice said. “And they’re gonna feel at home when they’re in Montgomery County and Dayton, Ohio.”

For DeBolt and the UD Arena staff, it’s a crazy stretch. They hosted the state girls basketball tournament this weekend, then move to the First Four mid-week, then the boys state tournament next weekend.

DeBolt said it means “little sleep and a lot of work.”

On Thursday, after the NCAA games are completed, workers will take down the NCAA tournament signs, replace them with Ohio High School Athletic Association signs, and remove the NCAA-branded floor.

DeBolt said it’s fun to host the tournaments, and said he thinks UD does a good job putting it together.

“We host basketball,” DeBolt said. “We think we do it pretty good, so that’s what we’d like to do.”

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