Cougars happy with spotlight

Wednesday, November 29, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:56 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

In a market dominated by MU and high school athletics, Columbia College typically gets little attention from the average Columbia sports fan, something Brad Jenks, Columbia College’s assistant athletic director, and the rest of the Cougar athletic department hope to change beginning today when Columbia College hosts the NAIA Volleyball National Championship Tournament that runs throughSaturday.

Jenks said hosting the national tournament is an opportunity for Columbia College to draw new local fans.

“It does take a big event like this to draw some attention to the college sometimes,” Jenks said. “Once we get two or three people over here and they see what we do on a game-by-game basis, they like it, and they come back and enjoy it.”

Hosting the national tournament brings several expenses and costs. Jenks said the NAIA does not pay operational costs for the event.

“We basically pick up the tab on everything,” Jenks said. “We pay for the officials, we pay for stat crews, line judges. We pay for everything.”

Those costs make it difficult for Columbia College to make money in the short-term from the tournament, but Jenks said any money lost would be more than made up for by being placed in a nation-wide spotlight.

“If we break even, great, if we make money, great, if we lose money, that’s just the way it goes,” Jenks said. “It’s hard to put a price on the exposure of the college and the exposure on our athletic department nationwide.”

The tournament is rarely held in the Midwest. For the past seven years, the tournament was held in California or Florida. Jenks said Columbia College’s central location will allow fans from other Midwestern states to make the trip.

“I talked to some people from Houston Baptist last year out in San Diego (at the national tournament) ... and they said they would definitely drive in for it,” Jenks said. “I think it’s going to be a little more easily accessible than the East Coast and West Coast.”

Visiting fans will spend more than $750,000 in Columbia during the two years the national tournament is in Columbia, Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau said. Steiner said she arrived at that estimate by looking at how many people were participating in the tournament and then looking at past national tournaments to see how many visiting fans came as well.

The bureau is studying the spending habits of visitors who attended a recent 10-day conference in Columbia and found retail outlets as well as hotels and restaurants benefitted.

“Wal-Mart and Barnes and Noble were just two of the many retailers that received a lot of economic benefit during the conference,” Steiner said. “Gas stations also did well.”

Helping make the event run will be an estimated 250 volunteers, Cindy Fotti, coordinator of athletic information and compliance, said. Volunteers will work jobs that will place them on the court as ball rotators or out of the building completely as parking attendants.

“I’ve had awesome people who have said, ‘I can fill in whenever you need me,’” Fotti said. “Almost everyone is doing more than one shift and being really generous with their time.”

Don Stevens, the father of Cougars’ defensive specialist Kristen Stevens, has volunteered at Columbia College basketball games since 1989. He will take off work today, Thursday and Friday to volunteer all day at the volleyball event. While Don Stevens attended volleyball games throughout the season, he decided to volunteer for the national tournament because he said he was needed and he wanted to take a more active role in supporting Columbia College volleyball.

“It’s important to participate instead of sitting around and watching,” he said. “I wanted to get in there and show my support.”

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