Women's NJCAA Tournament to leave Salina

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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SALINA, Kan. -- The Women's NJCAA Tournament will leave Salina after 17 years following an announcement Thursday by the Championship Events Committee.

From their annual meeting in Colorado Springs, the NJCAA announced Lubbock, Tex. will host the tournament beginning in 2016.

"Certainly this is not the outcome we'd hoped for," said Tiffany Benien, tournament director and Sports & Special Events Manager for the Salina Chamber of Commerce. "The Chamber, the Bicentennial Center, the business community and our dedicated volunteers -- 250 strong -- have supported this event whole-heartedly. Although disappointed, we are extremely proud of the job we've done and of the proposal we submitted for 2016-2018."

Lubbock had submitted its own proposal for the 2016-2018 seasons. The city of almost 300,000 people has pushed to host the event at Lubbock Christian University.

Concerns over accessibility, attendance, and room for growth were thought to be among factors being considered as the considered made its decision.

"We've run a quality tournament since the '97-'98 season, and believe that experience and Salina's hospitality to the teams, fans, media and recruiting coaches will be immensely difficult to match," Benien said.

Kansas Hall of Fame Coach Ken Cochran agrees with Benien.

Few people in town know local basketball tradition and history like Cochran. He coached Marymount College of Salina for 11 seasons, leading the team to 401 victories. Between 1970 and 1978, his teams won 106 straight home games.

Cochran also created the Pop-A-Shot electronic basketball game which is still manufactured in Salina.

"We've had some great basketball times here," Cochran said. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

He says the loss of the tournament will be a real blow to Salina.

"Anytime you get a national championship in your community, that's something we can all take pride in," Cochran said. "It's been a wonderful tournament for our community and it's brought money to our community."

In fact, Salina Chamber of Commerce leaders have estimated the tournament brings in about $600,000 a year for the community.

"Anytime you lose an event that takes up 7 days of your building that's a big deal. It's consistent business," said Ron Rideout, General Manager of the Bicentennial Center which has been hosting the tournament. "It's unfortunate, it's an event that's been here for 17 years and we want it to continue."

But Rideout says he's trying to see the glass half full and be optimistic for the future.

"It gives us an opportunity to grow and step outside the norm and see what other types of exciting things we can bring into town," Rideout said.

Though there may be other events that can fill the schedule in March, Cochran and others in town say the basketball tradition of the Women's NJCAA Tournament will be hard to replace.

They're holding out hope it will return when Lubbock's deal ends in 2018.

"I think after a few years if Lubbock doesn't draw flies, they'll be knocking on our doors. At least I hope so," Cochran said.

The National Championship will be held at the Salina Bicentennial Center March 16-21, 2015 before moving to Lubbock in 2016.

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