BY JENNIFER BAILEY
When visitors walk into the Mary Miller Gymnasium at Danville Area Community College to watch a National Junior College Athletic Association basketball game, fans from as young as babies to elementary school children to adults line the bleachers.
The fans come from all over to watch their teams, including squads from Arizona to New Jersey, Michigan to Maryland, Iowa to New York and everywhere in between, including lots of basketball fans from Danville.
Two fans from Iowa who traveled 10 hours to come see their Iowa Lakes Community College Lakers play this week were John and Carolyn Walz, of Estherville, Iowa.
They were dressed in their sports gear, ready to cheer on their Lakers. The 69-year-old and 71-year-old, respectively, were last in Danville in 2000 and also 1998.
They remember loving coming to Danville for the tournament and especially seeing tournament director Dick Shockey.
That’s how they first came to Danville to see the tournament here, through a mutual friend of theirs and Shockey’s, former Iowa Lakes Community College president Jim Billings.
The Walzes checked to see if Shockey was still involved in the tournament this year and learned from Shockey that he was. That’s when they decided to travel with the team back to Danville.
“We’ve been connected to the college forever,” Carolyn said, of their 30 years being involved with the team.
Carolyn has served as “team mom,” while John has been staff keeper. Their son also was a ball boy, and they’ve served as a host family.
Of course they’re big basketball fans. Also, they’ve made lots of connections in traveling with the team, such as to Danville.
They said Danville easily stands out, however, in hosting the tournament.
“The thing we like is the hospitality here,” John said, adding that Shockey is a big part of making tournament guests feel welcome.
From the man selling the tickets at the front door, to the free programs and other aspects, John said all those involved make the tournament very inviting.
Danville is like another “hometown,” for them, John and Carolyn added.
“It feels like we’re coming home. We love Danville,” Carolyn said.
The Walzes stay at a hotel here and had already shopped at the new Kohl’s.
Other fans in the stands didn’t have to travel as far to see the games this week.
Adam Grimes, with The Harris Insurance Agency in Hoopeston, normally comes to the tournament every year whether DACC is playing or not, such as was the case this year. He said he loves watching DACC play, but also loves watching good basketball.
He said going to the tournament is part work because he can talk to people and make connections.
Grimes said it’s exciting to see “the quality of basketball” here and possible future basketball stars.
One player from Mott Community College in Flint, Mich., went onto Ohio State, he added.
Grimes said he’ll come a few times during the week to watch games.
“I’ll be at this weekend’s championship for sure,” Grimes said.
Two other local fans, Pete Caudill and Gene Thompson, both of Danville, were attending the tournament for their first and second times, respectively.
Caudill said Thompson suggested they attend, and they decided to “come on out.” They said they just wanted to watch some good basketball games. They planned to come back multiple times during the week.
Another fan in the stands, Rick Randall, also is a volunteer at the tournament. Randall said he watches the games when he can while also volunteering.
“It’s a lot of good basketball,” he said, agreeing with a lot of the other fans.
He’s retired, so he likes coming out each year to the tournament.
“I think it’s great for Danville. It brings in a lot of money …,” Randall said.