HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KSNW) — The other “Big Tournament” is the National Junior College Athletic Association’s men’s basketball championship, which is taking place in Hutchinson this week.
It is bringing in cash and excitement to a community that has struggled with layoffs lately.
“Well, the teams come in early before the championship even starts, so we start seeing those coaches and players all throughout the community on Saturday,” said LeAnn Cox, VisitHutch vice president of operations. “It’s well north of a million dollars, and that’s very conservative,”
The money will be rolling in across the community for the duration of the championship tourney.
“We have a contract for another 21 years, so that’s a big plus for Hutchinson, Kansas,” said Tom Reilly, NJCAA National tournament assistant director. “At any given time right now, there’s 3,000 or 4,000 people in the gym, but we’ve got 23 games over the next six days.”
Reilly says this is the 75th anniversary of the NJCAA basketball tournament in Hutchinson.
“None of this happens without volunteers,” said Reilly. “We can’t run the tournament without them. They’re critical.”
Reilly says more than 200 American Legion volunteers from the Hutchinson area started working earlier this year to make it happen.
Businesses like the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson love to see the estimated 50,000 or more people in town.
“So we get people stopping by that are here in town, and some are from out of state this time of year,” said Tristyn Green, the marketing/data coordinator of Kansas Cosmosphere. “Any time we are able to show people who aren’t from here, Kansas especially, our little gem here, we’re very proud and happy to.”
Green says from the big SR71 blackbird on display to the Apollo gallery and the astronaut experience, all ages seem drawn to the Cosmosphere. Green also says it helps that the Cosmosphere is just across the parking lot of the National Juco Tournament.
With games underway, volunteers are as busy as ever.
“It’s just always been in my blood that I’m going to serve my country one way or the other,” said American Legion volunteer Larry Collins. “Whether I was in the service or I am here.”
Collings has been volunteering for 50 years at the tournament. He used to take a vacation during the tournament so he could volunteer. Collins is now retired.
“I don’t have to take vacation,” said Collins. “But this tournament has meant so much to Hutchinson and the area. That is why we volunteer.”