When the 2013 LHSAA Boys’ and Girls’ Regional Championships hit northwest Louisiana on Friday, it’s people like TeNeisha McKinney who will put a face on the Shreveport-Bossier City community.
While success or failure of the weekend event, which will bring teams from every corner of the state to the CenturyLink Center, isn’t totally dependent on the 100 volunteers working the weekend, they will play a vital role. McKinney will serve as a hostess for the Plainview and Denham Springs girls teams on Friday.
“My role as hostess is to roll out the red carpet – to expose them to everything we have to offer here in Shreveport and Bossier City,” said McKinney, a former Texas high school basketball and volleyball player. “We want them to try some of the restaurants here that you can’t get in Monroe, Lafayette and some of the other areas of the state.”
The championships are expected to have at least a $500,000 economic impact on the community with five games each on Friday and Saturday. Among the participants are the Southwood Lady Cowboys, top-ranked in the state’s largest class, and the Pelican Lady Jaguars, top-ranked in the state’s smallest class, and the state’s defending Class C champs.
The Pelican boys feature Zeke Woodley, one of the state’s top rated recruits, averaging about 30 points per game and attracting interest from schools like Oklahoma State.
If the weekend is successful, the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission has a chance to land either the boys or girls state championships next spring. After this season, the LHSAA will dismantle the regional format, and award a Top 28 event to two Louisiana cities. The boys’ event could have up to a $5 million economic impact, while the girls could bring $1.5 million in extra dollars, according to SBSC sports director Kelly Wells.
“We are definitely excited to be hosting the regional this weekend and we know a lot of people will be watching to see how successful we are on a number of fronts,” Wells said. “Although we are hoping for a big turnout from local folks, attendance isn’t the only factor that will determine the success of the event and whether or not we are able to get the championships next year.”
Apparently it’s the little things that matter as well. Pelican coach Cleve Craig, whose team will play Saline at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, has played in venues across the state during his 18-year career at the DeSoto Parish school.
“To me, the success of an event like this is if the kids are treated special, because for some of them, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Craig said. “If they get nothing more than a bracelet with CenturyLink on it or a gift bag – it makes it special. In Hammond one year they gave the kids Mardi Gras necklaces.”
A number of businesses have stepped up to contribute most of the $32,000 required to rent the CenturyLink Center for two days, while Ryan’s in Bossier City will be feeding a number of the teams.
“We have teams who plan to come here and we will have our normal buffet, plus some seafood items for Lent,” Ryan’s kitchen manager Scott Lindholm said. “We usually take care of the food for coaches and bus drivers.”
Wells said goody bags have been stuffed and a hospitality room is on tap for LHSAA officials, visiting coaches and VIPs.
“The CLC is opening early and the EMS folks are helping us with staffing,” Wells said. “We’ll be displaying a Forrest Wood Cup boat at the CLC to promote that event (coming in August to the Red River).”
Several area teams, like Dubach, Simsboro, Farmerville, Pelican and Natchitoches Central may play their games, then return to their respective homes on game-day, limiting the local economic impact.
“We’re excited that we have some local teams participating, because that will certainly help with attendance, but we like the farther away teams, too, because they will spend dollars that wouldn’t have been spent in northwest Louisiana,” Wells said.
Among the volunteers working the event are individuals from Barksdale AFB, the Job Corps Center and local businesses. They have a tough act to follow when measured against Lafayette’s Blue Coats, a group of mostly senior volunteers, who helped make the boys Top 28 a huge success for 15 years in UL-Lafayette’s Cajundome.
“The Top 28 was our signature event and the Blue Coats absolutely miss it,” said Karen Primeaux, director of convention and sports marketing for the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Every year they tried to top themselves with the free stuff they could collect to give to the players. They were so passionate about basketball and they supported the mission of the LHSAA.”
Lafayette will not be a player when the LHSAA meets this summer to determine sites for the two 2014 and 2015 championships. The Cajundome is booked for both years, according to Primeaux. Meanwhile, LHSAA executive director Kenny Henderson and his committee will be keeping a close eye on regionals at Shreveport-Bossier City, Hammond and Lake Charles to see what happens in each city this weekend.
“It’ll be interesting to see who wants basketball,” Henderson said. “It should show who does a good job — it does come back to that.”