Blase pilots state’s smooth-sailing championships

Sunday, March 13, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:57 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

As fans hopped over rails and raced for the best seats in Mizzou Arena, George Blase sat calmly at a table on the court, waiting.

There was still about an hour until the first game of the Missouri State High School Activities Association’s state basketball championships started Friday morning, and Blase had been through this process many times in the past.

For 15 years Blase, assistant executive director of MSHSAA, has been the man responsible for running the state’s basketball championships. With all of that experience, there was not much that could surprise him, and his cool demeanor epitomized how much of a science running the championships has become.

“We’re opening up,” Mizzou Arena manager Roger Crumpton said, just before the fans began their determined quest for prime territory.

Blase did not offer a response or even blink, he was too focused on making sure his second walkie-talkie had an antenna.

Those were the kind of issues that required attention. All of the big details had been ironed out through months of planning and years of practice, and even a move from the Hearnes Center to Mizzou Arena did not cause the MSHSAA staff to lose its heads.

Blase keeps an ever-thickening two-inch binder with him at all times, and until the tournaments are over, it will not leave his sight.

In his binder, Blase keeps everything from floor plans of Mizzou Arena, referee assignments for every playoff game and hotel reservations for every team that makes the trip to Columbia.

“I’m the point guy, the guy who’s going to get the questions if things don’t go right,” Blase said.

Although Blase is the man at the top, there are many other people who play a role in planning, organizing and running the state basketball championships.

MSHSAA has a multi-year contract with the University of Missouri and the City of Columbia that creates a triumvirate of shared responsibilities.

Primary oversight for the championships lies in the hands of MSHSAA, but the city’s Convention and Vistors Bureau and Mizzou Arena’s staff play integral roles in every stage of planning and implementing.

Laura Steiner is the executive director of Columbia’s CVB and has been involved with state championship events for 18 years.

She said her bureau’s main responsibility is providing financial support and hosting informational luncheons for volunteers, the media and hotels.

“We’ve got it down to a pretty fine science,” Steiner said.

The largest group of volunteers involved in the tournaments is the team hosts. Each team is matched with two Columbia residents who meet the team when it arrives, make sure it knows where to practice and even sit with the teams on the sidelines during games.

The hosts for each team were recognized before the announcement of the starting lineups for Friday’s games.

By that time, Blase was in full anticipation mode. He is responsible for making all the referee assignments for the tournament and tries to watch as many games as possible to see how the officials are doing.

He still has time to joke with Crumpton about needing reading glasses, and the two begin talking about the excitement a Class 5 boys championship between Vashon and Poplar Bluff would provide.

Crumpton said Mizzou Arena provides amenities for events, such as the state finals, that the Hearnes Center could never match, including more locker rooms.

One drawback, though, is there are not enough courts on site for teams and performing groups to warm up. Some of them must go to the Hearnes Center before moving to Mizzou Arena for the games.

Beyond that, there are few negatives.

“It was a well thought out building for basketball,” Crumpton said.

MSHSAA had a well thought out plan to make the tournaments happen.

The event was running so smoothly by Friday afternoon that members of the media and even MSHSAA staff members had time to watch parts of the Missouri-Oklahoma basketball game in the media room.

The apparent ease with which the tournament was running was a testament to the commitment Blase and others have to make the two weekends seamless for the community and the fans who travel to Columbia.

MSHSAA executive director Becky Oakes credits Blase and others for their hard work.

“He’s done a good job, and the staff’s all really pitched in to make sure we’re good,” Oakes said.

The two weekends do take a toll on Blase. He will be at Mizzou Arena from 7:30 a.m. until about midnight for five days in a week’s span.

Even though he said the event is still fun for him, how relieved will he be once it is over?

“My favorite day of every year is the Sunday after the second weekend,” Blase said.

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