Big Hoopla events tied to First Four aim to spark excitement, economy, education

Three events this weekend are aimed at celebrating Dayton’s 20-year involvement with the first round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, 10 of them as host site of the First Four.

The Road to the Final Four starts in Dayton Tuesday and Wednesday at the University of Dayton Arena when the University of Dayton hosts the First Four.

A Big Hoopla Family Festival along 5th Street Sunday in the Oregon District, features activities, interactive displays, live entertainment, special events, NCAA Selection Sunday viewing and more.

“Having the festival in the Oregon District this year is a community partnership that continues to show support for our region, our businesses and our military, especially over the last two years of shutdowns,” said Sarah Spees, project manager Dayton Development Coalition and director of non-profit the Big Hoopla. “With Wright Patterson Air Force Base being our largest employer and having so many servicemen and their families living in our region for a short period of time, we want them to be able to experience how passionate we are about our community and basketball, in particular. Having a big celebration on Selection Sunday kicks off one of our region’s most important economic drivers.”

The festival, which runs from 2 to 7 p.m., was last held in 2012 by the Big Hoopla, which was formed to organize all activities for the Dayton region in and around the NCAA First Four and the Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.

“Two years ago, when we had to cancel the First Four, we had planned on having a festival in the Oregon District,” said Terry Slaybaugh, chairman of the Big Hoopla’s Local Organizing Committee. “They had just had a tragedy ... a few months before. We wanted to go there to show our support for the businesses and for the Dayton community.

‘I don’t think any of us realized how important that would be today, to have the festival downtown and be able to support the businesses by having the festival on Selection Sunday.”

Area restaurants open at 10 a.m. for brunch. Blind Bob’s will whip up a banana creme pie french toast.

“With as slow as it’s been the past couple of years due to the pandemic, it’s nice to sort of pick up where we left off in 2020,” said Andy Rowe, assistant general manager of Blind Bob’s and the newly elected president of the Oregon District Business Association. “We had scheduled a Big Hoopla that March two years ago that got shut down shortly before St. Patrick’s Day. It was a pretty hard time to downshift and miss out on that event, but I’m glad we’re bringing it back.”



Oregon District restaurant Lily’s Dayton will serve guests from 10 a.m. through dinner, said owner Emily Mendenhall.

“Just for us, seeing the Oregon District as an activated space again and ... being able to bring back this event that had been halted at the last minute two years ago, it feels like a win for all of us,” Mendenhall said. We just hope people come out and enjoy it.”

When the festival launches at 2 p.m., Lily’s Dayton will offer fried chicken waffle cones to allow customers to dine while strolling through the event, Mendenhall said.

Also scheduled for Sunday is a 2022 Big Hoopla Four-Miler, a community run/walk that starts at Welcome Stadium, crosses the river and travels a MetroParks pathway along the Great Miami. That event has already recorded the highest registration ever since its inception in 2014, organizers said

Sunday also will feature the 2022 Big Hoopla STEM Challenge, which includes science, technology, engineering, and math demonstrations for students in kindergarten through eighth grades, as well as educational activities and a basketball “hot shot” contest with prizes awarded for each shot made.

Winners of each age group get to come onto the court of the first NCAA game Tuesday night and make their final shot on court, Spees said.

Already, more than 500 students have registered for this year’s installment, “the highest number we’ve ever had this early, really early in the registration,” Slaybaugh said.

The event, which started with 250 people in 2013, continues to grow each year and event organizers have changed venues to accommodate that growth, said Scott Sullivan, STEM Challenge co-founder and president of Centerville-based SelectTech Services Corporation.

Nearly 20 companies come to the event and exhibit for students to interact and learn about STEM education.

“The STEM Challenge is how to tie basketball to the fun and the importance of STEM education,” Sullivan said. “For years and years we had our partner, .... Chaminade Julienne (Catholic High School), who always held the event. We’ve outgrown that space and we’ve now moved to the (Dayton) Convention Center so we can continue to scale it.”

Credit: E.L. Hubbard

Credit: E.L. Hubbard


2022 Big Hoopla Four Miler: Community run/walk starts at Welcome Stadium, crosses over the river and travels MetroParks pathway along the Great Miami River. Registration opens at 8 a.m. with the race set to start at 9 a.m. More information:


2022 Big Hoopla STEM Challenge: Free event for students K-8th grade at Dayton Convention Center linking the fun of basketball and the unique education opportunities in the STEM environment to the NCAA men’s basketball First Four games. Noon to 4:30 p.m. Opening ceremony at 1 p.m. Registration at

2022 Big Hoopla Festival: Family-friendly community event showing support of the Oregon Business District, military families, students and the Dayton region. 2 to 7 p.m., but restaurants open at 10 a.m. for brunch. Tents in the district will include food and beer for sale, as well as televisions for viewing Selection Sunday programming. More information at

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