NCCAA here for one last week

By Roger Grossman
News Now Warsaw

WARSAW — Next week will mark the end of an era in Kosciusko County sports history.

Next week will be the last time, at least for a while, that the National Christian College Athletic Association will be conducting its Division I men’s and women’s basketball national championship tournaments at Grace College.

Grace College became the host of the women’s tournament in March of 2009, and they signed a three-year deal to do that. Two years later, negotiations began to bring the men’s tournament to Winona Lake, too. That deal was completed, and Grace started hosting both the men’s and women’s tournaments in 2012.

Those tournaments don’t run during separate weeks—they run simultaneously. That means you have four women’s games and four men’s games every day for the first two days, and then two each day on Consolation Friday and Championship Saturday.

The first game tips at 8:30 a.m. and the last will end near 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday.

It’s four really long days, and it’s been going on for over a decade.

Truth is, “NCCAA Week” starts long before that for the athletic department at Grace
Grace was ready for a break.

So last April, the NCCAA home office announced that the Division I basketball championships would be moving to Branson, Missouri, and would be hosted by the College of the Ozarks.

C of O knows a lot about hosting championship events, and they will do an excellent job of hosting these tournaments for the next three years. The Keeter Athletic Complex has served as host of the NCCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball National Championship in 2018, 2019, 2021, and 2022, while also previously hosting the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship.

They know what they are doing.

But today is a time to reflect back on what has been and what will be next week at the current venue.

Grace College and the MOCC are a top-shelf place to host such an event. The MOCC has the shape and feel of a place where championships should be played. It has the right number of seats to accommodate everyone who comes, but it’s small enough to make the fans feel like they are really close to the action … because they are.

But, as is true in almost everything that works well, it’s the people who make these events work.

It’s about Athletic Director Chad Briscoe and everyone in the athletic office. It’s about the dozens of volunteers who just want to work to make the people visiting here feel welcome. It’s about the chamber of commerce and the convention and visitors bureau who work behind the scenes to help our guests have a positive experience here, and who also share the story of why this is such a great place to live, work and play.

And it’s about local businesses who give of their time and products for the cause.

It’s been a great 15 years, and everyone who has had any role or involvement in it should feel an incredible amount of pride for what’s taken place here each March.

I have two memories to share from my time attending, broadcasting and supporting this event.

The first was two years ago. As our area began to spring back to life after COVID with a confident stride, I was part of the broadcasting team providing play-by-play on the NCCAA’s internet platform so people around the country could watch the games and cheer for their favorite teams.

At the Tuesday practices sessions, which I attend to meet coaches and players and get better prepared for the tournament, I ran into a coach how had brought his team back to Winona Lake for the tournament after not earning their way in 2019 and the 2020 tournament being cancelled because of the pandemic.

He and I had good conversations in their previous visit, and I was looking forward to seeing him again.

I ran into him in the tunnel that leads to the court, and he smiled and walked quickly to me and hugged me — the kind of hug like Ellis Redding and Andy Dufresne had on the beach after “Red” had completed his sentence in the closing scene of Shawshank Redemption.

I was caught off-guard by the length and intensity of the embrace, which was accompanied by gentle sobs in my ear. I pulled back and said, “I am so very glad to see you!”

He explained that he had lost someone dear to COVID-19, and he was glad to see that I had been spared. We hugged again and each shared a Bible verse of encouragement.

The other memory was from last March.

The Asbury women’s basketball team participated at Grace last season, and they came to Winona Lake as an amazing spiritual revival was taking place on their campus. It was so powerful that even the mainstream media covered it.

To listen to those young ladies speak of their experiences was moving, and not something I will ever forget.

Next week will be the last time teams from around the country will come to the MOCC in search of a national championship.

I hope you will come and take the spectacle in this one last time. Come cheer for Grace, and while you are there pick a team that you know nothing about and just cheer for them. Make them feel welcome. They’ll appreciate, and it will stick with you for a long time to come.

Thank you, NCCAA, for 15 years of fun and fellowship. We’ll see you again, soon.