Final Four volunteers brace for visiting multitudes

Photo by Charles Hallman (l-r) Minnesota Coach Lindsay Whalen, Minnesota Deputy AD Julie Manning

Sports Odds & Ends

People of color in short supply

Thousands of visitors are expected to be in town in a couple of weeks for the 2022 NCAA Women’s Final Four. It is the first large-scale sporting event held here since the pandemic.

A two-hour volunteer orientation session was held Sunday at Williams Arena. Between 350-400 persons were expected to attend, Minnesota Local Operating Committee Volunteer Director Kathy Gullickson told the MSR beforehand. “This is great,” she exclaimed. “Overall, we believe we will have about 600-700 volunteers.”

However, we only saw a small handful of Blacks who attended the session: “We worked very hard to try to get that community out here,” admitted Gullickson. “We are working hard.”

(l-r) DonEsther (Donna) Anderson, Monique Flowers
Photo by Charles Hallman

Two Black women who were there, DonEsther (Donna) Anderson and Monique Flowers, talked to us after the event. Both were chosen to model the Final Four Volunteer uniforms that will be worn during the weekend. Both also noticed the few persons of color in attendance.

“I chose to volunteer just to be around the people coming in and out of town, and directly in our community,” stated Flowers.

“I’m excited about the Final Four being here in Minnesota,” added Anderson.

Volunteers often are the first faces visitors see as they arrive at such events as the Final Four. “The NCAA recognizes volunteers,” Minnesota Deputy Athletics Director Julie Manning told them. During the successful bid process several years ago, Manning reported, “We pitched them a lot of different things. One of them is a volunteer force.”

(l-r) Debbie Estes, Wendy Blackshaw, MN Local Organizing Committee co-director
Photo by Charles Hallman

Gopher WBB Coach Lindsay Whalen advised the group to work hard, work together and have fun.  “A lot of dreams will come true” for the four teams in town to compete for the national championship—the players, coaches, and support staff. “And you’ll be a part of that,” she emphasized.

Before the two games scheduled for Friday, April 1, and the title game on Sunday, April 3, the NCAA’s eighth “dream court” will be unveiled March 30 at Elizabeth Hall STEM Academy, 1603 Aldrich Avenue North. The new outdoor court “will be available to the community during non-school hours,” said Minnesota Local Organizing Committee Co-Director Debbie Estes.

Also, the top “Final Four” schools that competed in the NCAA’s Read to the Final Four reading program will win a field trip to Tourney Town, a three-day free event at the Minneapolis Convention Center April 1, 2 and 3. Over 1,000 schools and 1,600 third graders from around the state signed up for the reading challenge/competition, Estes reported.

Wendy Blackshaw, the co-director along with Estes, told the MSR the number of visitors expected here later this month would be “somewhere in the neighborhood of probably 30-35,000 in downtown. But when you start adding in people going out to [the scheduled free-to-the-public ancillary events],” she estimates it could reach upwards of 50,000. “It’s spring break week, and we have tons of events going on.”

“It is more than three games,” said Estes.

Gullickson said of Final Four volunteers, “There’s still room.” Those interested can go to volunteers@mnsportsandevents.org for more details.

Anderson concluded that local community folk should sign up as well as attend the various Final Four events, especially the youth. “It’s really important that we expose our children to as many opportunities as possible, so that later on in their life they have many memories.”