Teams representing the United States claimed titles, hundreds of athletes and visitors from seven countries enjoyed four days of world class competition and, in the end, Huntersville and the overall Lake Norman region may have been the biggest winners.
The first International Tournament of Champions, hosted by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association and made possible through a cooperative effort between the Huntersville Parks and Recreation Department, Cornelius PARC, Visit Lake Norman and area schools and businesses, took center stage last week in north Mecklenburg.
Twelve teams — seven men’s squads and five women’s teams — squared off in a four-day tournament billed as a tune-up for next year’s Paralympic Games in London. The U.S. women dribbled to the championship unbeaten and one of the two U.S. men entries — the overall squad was split into two teams to provide more court time for each player — claimed top honors. But according to Dick Bryant, president of the NWBA, highest accolades should go to the local individuals who and agencies that helped make the event possible.
Bryant, a Charlotte resident, addressed the Huntersville Town Board Monday night in order to express his appreciation for the efforts put forth to make the inaugural Tournament of Champions a success.
“Huntersville came to the rescue,” Bryant said early in his remarks to the Huntersville Town Board of Commissioners Monday night, describing the desperate situation the tournament was in when, after six months of work and planning, it was revealed that the original host city for the event could not guarantee the gym space required.
“I was ready to cancel everything, and then I talked to Josh,” Bryant added, referring to Josh Brock, athletic coordinator with Huntersville Parks and Recreation. “He secured four gyms in 48 hours and was reaching out for more. I needed gym space and community support, and that’s what we got.”
Bryant also praised Travis Dancy, sports marketing manager with Visit Lake Norman, the region’s travel and tourism agency, for working to secure the motel rooms needed for teams and tournament guests and ironing out many of the other intricate details needed for the event to occur.
“When I met Josh and Travis,” Bryant said, also citing the efforts by Ben Benshoof, HPR’s assistant athletic coordinator, “I knew I was in good hands.”
The end result of the cooperative effort was a locally hosted international sporting event featuring an elite field planned and executed in little more than 12 weeks, instead of the preferred 12 months.
Bryant said HPR and VLN, along with Dee Jetton of Health and Sports Works, the manager of Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatics Center, and various restaurants and other businesses, pooled efforts to provide or procure whatever the teams, fans and organizers needed.
“Obviously, three-and-a-half months is not the time frame you need for something like this,” Bryant said. “You need more time to take care of all the details, but everyone did a tremendous job.”
Bryant said the tournament was good for the participants and benefitted the community. He added that he would like to make the TOC an annual north Mecklenburg event.
“I think the players made quite an impression on the young people who attended,” Bryant said, “and I know the players and teams who took part were impressed.”
He said representatives of the Japan teams were already talking about next year, and conversations with German and Australian team officials were also positive about making the local tournament a regular stop on the competition calendar. He says teams from the other countries taking part — Australia, Canada, Great Britain and The Netherlands — also had good experiences.
“The opportunity to bring this here was very important,” Bryant said. “The gym space, the practice time and all the other factors were vital.”
Bryant said coordinating the transportation for teams was the biggest headache and he did admit, with a little bit of a chuckle, that a scheduling oversight did leave one team waiting at the hotel as its game time approached, but those minor glitches didn’t take away from the overall success.
He thanked the schools — Lake Norman Charter, Bailey Middle School and Lake Norman High School — for the use of their gyms and repeated his appreciation for the efforts made by Huntersville town staff and VLN representatives. And he singled out Mayor Jill Swain for her commitment to the event.
“I appreciate all you’ve done for us,” Bryant told Swain.
“I have never seen better athletes in my life,” Swain said in describing the tournament’s players.
“And this was a wonderful, absolutely wonderful event.”
The Tournament of Champions also provided some worldwide exposure for the community. Tournament games were webcast live and are archived at www.livestream.com/nwba. Bryant said Friday’s games recorded more than 22,000 hits worldwide and he expects the entire tournament attracted more than 100,000 viewers. Swain was a guest color analyst during one of the games and said “I got more than a quarter of game time to brag about Huntersville over the Internet.”