When the first two of 48 teams tip off at 9 a.m. sharp on Tuesday at the Dothan Civic Center, all the behind the scenes work to bring the Alabama High School Athletic Association South Regional basketball tournament here will come to fruition.
“The whole city of Dothan is totally behind this tournament,” says Larry Patrick, the assistant director of the Dothan Department of Leisure Services. “I do think that was a selling point.
“When they (AHSAA officials) saw that support, I think that was impressive. And I told them if you ever come, you won’t want to go anywhere else. We’re going to show you a quality event.”
There will be 24 girls basketball teams and 24 boys teams competing in the high school tournament beginning Tuesday and running through Saturday. Each of the 48 will have the goal of winning two games in Dothan to advance to the state tournament in Birmingham the following week.
Bringing the South Regional to Dothan has been coveted by city officials for many years, but until last April its bid was turned down in favor of Troy, and most recently Mobile.
“Actually it was 2006 when we first looked at trying to get the tournament here,” Patrick said. “Part of Leisure Services goals and objectives is to try to bring events toDothan. And it was an event we thought we could do well, so we put in a bid for it.
“It was still in Troy at the time. We didn’t even get them (AHSAA officials) to come down. We turned in a bid and they were nice, but said they were going to stay in Troy at the time. Then they went down to Mobile.”
After three years at The Mitchell Center in Mobile, a 10,041-seat arena which is home base for the University of South Alabama basketball team, AHSAA officials were ready to explore other options. While the seating at the arena was plentiful, often times the crowds were thin and the promotion of the event by Mobile leaders was somewhat lacking, especially when the tournament was ariound Mardi Gras.
“My understanding is it got lost in Mobile,” Patrick said, alluding to attention given the tourney in the big city as compared to Dothan.
It was shortly after the South Regional completed last year that Rhonda Kirk of Dothan Leisure Services said she fielded a call from an official of the AHSAA inquiring about the possibility of bringing the event to Dothan.
“Wanda Gilliland (assistant director) asked us if we were interested, and I told her absolutely and that I would get with Larry and see when we could meet with the Alabama High School Athletic Association officials and propose to them what we had and what we could do,” Kirk said. “We’ve been begging for this tournament for years. I mean begging.”
When AHSAA officials arrived from Montgomery for the initial gathering, they were met with enthusiasm and a full room of city of Dothan representatives.
“As a unit, the city of Dothan pulled together with the fire chief and the police chief and everybody else and we sold them on Dothan,” Patrick said. “We had a room full of people, and I don’t think they’re used to seeing that. We had every department involved and I think that was impressive to them.
“We had somebody representing every aspect of the tournament. They could be sitting right there with the people who would be having these other responsibilities, that could hear it straight up and ask questions straight up. And we knew that was important.”
Bob Hendrix, the director of the Dothan Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), was involved in the meetings from the get-go and recalls the state officials asking about security at the Dothan Civic Center.
“We were all standing up on that second floor when they asked that question,” Hendrix said. “We basically said look out that window and what do you see? They said the ‘Dothan Police Department.’ Security won’t be a problem. There had been a big fight at one a couple of years ago.”
The initial agreement was for a three-year contract for Dothan to host the tournament, but it has since been extended for an additional three years, assuming there are no serious issues during the running of the event.
Getting a new basketball floor with the AHSAA logo at center court helped seal the addition on the contract. The CVB stepped up to pay $50,000 of the $93,950 cost of the new court, which was first used during this season’s Downtown Dothan Hoops Classic, an annual boys basketball tournament held right after Christmas. The court replaced the original one which had been in place since 1974.
“Any time you have a 48-team tournament, it’s going to generate an estimated half million dollars in economic impact,” Hendrix said. “And since we were also able to secure a new floor, it’s a win-win for a six-year contract, but also a win for the citizens ofDothan.”
Kirk and Patrick credited the CVB as playing a big part in helping to bring the tourney here.
“Bob is a huge influence in us extending the contract from three years to six,” Kirk said. “Bob donated a ton of money for us to get our new floor, and once we got our new floor, we approached (AHSAA) and asked them if we put your logo on this floor, will you extend this contract?
“And they jumped all over it, so our contract went from three to six years - an additional three years providing we meet security and we meet the seating capacity needs.”
There are some seating concerns with holding it in the Dothan Civic Center, which holds 2,110 for basketball. And parking around the facility can be challenging. But AHSAA officials have attended some of the tournament games at the Downtown Dothan Hoops Classic and apparently were convinced the arena seating would suffice.
“The only reservation that I think that they’ve got and that we might have would be seating capacity,” Patrick said. “They came to the Hoops Classic in the second or third year and they liked what they saw in the running of the tournament.
“There’s no way to get around that parking is going to be a little bit of an issue and a little bit of an inconvenience to our citizens. If they will work with us for about four or five days, it’s worthwhile.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make it as convenient as we can for both our participants that are coming and the general public that use the civic center during the day.
“We’re going to maintain an area out front that will be for city business, patrons only, and we will enforce that. We’ll have an area for our city employees to park. And then, we’re going to have an area behind the civic center for teams to come in, unload and park their buses there. We’re not charging for parking. That might be something that’s inviting to the teams and fans that come.”
The set-up in the arena will be a bit different than what’s been used during the Downtown Hoops Classic. The benches for the teams and scorer’s table with the announcer will be opposite the stage side. The media for the games will be stationed on the stage.
Tickets will be $8 per day as mandated by the AHSAA for everyone that is in the first grade and above. Those younger than a first grader will be admitted free.
The AHSAA will supply Dothan with $10,000 to help with expenses of the tournament. Patrick and other city officials have been meeting almost daily in recent weeks to go over all the details leading up to the big event.
“Staffing is huge,” Patrick said. “It takes a lot of staff to run the tournament, everything from people working the pass gate, from people sweeping the floors to hosts that we have that are leading our teams to the locker rooms and that kind of thing. To people working the parking lot, to hospitality, so we’ve met on all those areas again.”
The Dothan Department of Leisure Services is known throughout the southeast for running top-notch sporting events.
Patrick believes everyone is up to the challenge.
“Of course any time you run an event, the unknown is out there,” Patrick said. “But we feel confident. Of course we understand the high school athletic association will be calling the shots. We’re here strictly in a support role. But it is comforting we have done it before.”