BY MARVIN HOLMAN
The beginnings of Danville’s 20-year run of hosting the NJCAA Division II Tournament go back to the success of the Danville Area Community College men’s basketball team.
When the Jaguars won the 1991 championship over Brookhaven College at Delta College in Bay City, Mich., then-coach John Spezia came up with the idea to have the event in Danville.
“He heard when the team was there that Michigan was thinking about giving it up,” Tournament Director Dick Shockey said. “So we went from there and when we got it, it was tough to start but we got things done.”
“The win put DACC and Danville on the map”, said Spezia in 2011. “Through the early leadership of (former DACC President) Harry Braun, the efforts of Dick Shockey and the countless volunteers who have been a part of the National Tournament over the years, it has become what it is today, but through the unselfishness of the young men on this team in 1990-91, we were able to change the direction of DACC athletics which provided the foundation which led to the tournament coming here in 1994.”
After getting the rights starting with the 1994 tournament, Shockey wanted to make a tournament experience that is not only different for the NJCAA, but for all basketball tournaments.
“I wanted to go out and make a tournament where it would be a players and coaches tournament,” Shockey said. “We wanted to give awards and medals to the players and plaques for all of the teams involved.
“We also have out map which shows where all the teams are from and we put up the flags of each state as well.”
Shockey also got the help of Neuhoff Media Vice President of Operations Mike Hulvey and Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer, who announced the tournament from 1994-2003 on WDAN-AM 1490.
“Mike and I had experience with sports information at Illinois, so we put that into use,” Eisenhauer said. “We were able to do some things that were not being used in other tournaments.”
“We also wanted to do things that were great for the media that is covering the tournaments,” Hulvey said. “And that is why we put up the media room where coaches and players can come in and talk to media members separately and this year we are going to broadcast what the coach says out to the court.”
“We wanted to give out all the information about the teams and that is where we put out the media guide for the tournament,” Shockey said. “No one had done that before and it has caught on.”
The first tournament in Danville was won by Joliet Junior College and it had a different format than it does now.
“We had eight teams back then, so we didn’t have the amount of workers that we have now,” Shockey said. “It was trial and error back then and there is still things we work on every year.
“It is a lot of work, but I have 24 people on the Tournament Committee and we do just enough to get through without losing much money.”
The contract for the Division II tournament is a three-year contract and while bigger towns have shown interest in the tournament, Eisenhauer said that time and time again the experience that teams get in Danville is the reason the town keeps winning the contract.
“There are a few reasons why we keep winning: (Shockey) wants this to be a tournament where it is a players and coaches tournament,” Eisenhauer said. “We also have a great number of volunteers (400) that does everything to help out all the teams.
“And also, Danville is a junior college kind of town. If it was in Chicago, it would get lost among all the other things. Here it is the big event.”
The extra help from the volunteers has been one of the main hallmarks of the tournament and it has given the Tournament committee nothing but praises from the NJCAA.
“The volunteers are the biggest part of this tournament and it saves time for a lot of teams,” Shockey said. “Players have practice and game gear that need to be washed and it saves them a trip to the laundromat.”
“There have been many times that people have come up in NJCAA meetings and just tell us how great the experience is,” Eisenhauer said. “We get great comments for coaches who have been here and even coaches of teams who have not been here.”
Hulvey said that the last 20 years have brought the town exposure that is worth a lot.
“It has brought a lot of attention to us,” Hulvey said. “One year, you had the High School State tournament in Peoria, the NJCAA tournament here, the men’s Final Four in Indianapolis and the women’s final four in Cincinnati and we are all along I-74 and we started calling it the Championship Highway.”
The highway to the championship starts on Tuesday with six games.
Defending champion and top seed Mott Community College will take on Central CC of Columbus at 9 a.m., Owens Community College will take on Iowa Lakes Community College at 11 a.m.; Brown Mackie College will play Essex County College at 1 p.m., Louisburg College will play Penn Valley at 3 p.m., South Suburban will play Phoenix College at 6:30 p.m. and Rend Lake College will play Cecil College at 8:30 p.m.