‘It’s pretty crazy’ — Fans, teams flock to Lincoln for city’s biggest basketball party ever | Local Business News

The North Platte St. Patrick boys basketball players knew where they wanted to go after Monday’s big win in the first round of the Class D-1 state tournament.

Chick-fil-A, of course — winner, winner, chicken dinner and all that. Indeed, it’s not every day that you can visit the popular fast-food restaurant if you’re from western Nebraska.

So, what do you order after a big win?

“The 30-piece nuggets,” senior Jack Heiss said as he ate in a booth with his teammates at the 48th and O streets location. “You can take it back to the hotel and snack on it later. That’s the strategy.”

The noon-hour lunch craze at Chick-fil-A — which was bustling with players, families, coaches and fans — was a sign of a busy week ahead for Lincoln as it hosts both the girls and boys basketball tournaments that kicked off Monday with 24 games spread across Lincoln.

The boys and girls tournaments are typically three-day events held over two weeks in March, with teams flocking to Lincoln to vie for basketball glory Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

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But because of scheduling conflicts with last weekend’s Big Ten Wrestling Championship at Pinnacle Bank Arena, the two-week format was squished into a six-day, all-out hoops extravaganza bringing in 96 boys and girls teams from across the state.

The influx of visitors is good timing for hotel and restaurant owners looking for a much-needed boost as the pandemic subsides.

“They are loving it,” said Jeff Maul, director of the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau. “All sectors of hospitality were hit at a level I can’t imagine. Now to give them eight days if you count (Big Ten wrestling), that’s exactly what the community is built for.”

With the tournament lasting six days this year, players and fans must decide whether to stay in town if they win or make multiple trips home and back.

The North Platte St. Pat’s boys, for example, play in the semifinals Wednesday. If the Irish win, they’re in Friday’s championship. And even if they lose, the Irish will still get to play a third-place game Thursday.

Coach Bill O’Malley’s first instinct was to go home Monday night so his players could go to school for half a day Tuesday before making the four-hour trek back to Lincoln.

“But, ultimately, I left it up to our kids, our seniors particularly, and they wanted to just be able to stay,” O’Malley said after the Irish knocked off Lourdes Central Catholic 54-49 in a first-round game at Lincoln North Star High School.

The team has a full week of activities planned, including a practice Tuesday at a gym O’Malley reserved at Waverly High School. But there is a lot of downtime you have to plan for as well, the players said.

“We’ll do things like go to the mall, we’ll go watch some other games, stuff like that,” Heiss said. “It’s definitely fun.”

Carter Mann’s aunts, uncles and cousins ​​came from Burwell to support Mann and the Longhorns, who won their first-round game Monday. They planned to head back to Burwell, which is nearly three hours away, and come back Tuesday night.

“It’s a little chaotic, a little different just driving back and forth,” said Holly Mann, Carter’s aunt.

By coming back Tuesday they’re hoping to dodge a winter storm expected to sweep the state Wednesday and Thursday, which could hamper travelers heading back to Lincoln.

That storm is expected to drop 4-8 inches of snow Wednesday night into Thursday in Lincoln, according to National Weather Service models, with higher amounts out west.

Lynette Kramer of Albion, who’s in town to watch her nephew, Andrew Brosius, play for St. Pat’s, packed just in case.

“I think I brought in four bags,” she said. “It’s kind of like a vacation.”

The state tournaments are typically a big week for her and her family each year. She’s OK with staying a little longer, but she also understands it’s difficult for people who have to work and can’t necessarily take time off.

Terry and Alisha Glesinger were in town Monday to watch their son Billy play for Riverside, which lost to Loomis. Their plan was to drive the 2 1/2 hours back home to Spalding, win or lose.

“It’s probably a rat race for the hotels and restaurants,” Terry Glesigner said. “I think I’d like to go back to the other (format). I think it makes it more fun for the girls and the boys to have their own weekend.”

Jon Dolliver, the Nebraska School Activities Association’s assistant director of basketball, said this week was going to be different no matter what, with both “positives and negatives to everything.”

Dolliver said there will be conversations with the NSAA board on what the tournament looks like going forward.

“I think we’ll be looking at a two-week format,” he said. “I say that, but we may end up with a really good week this week and we may have some schools that like this, and if that’s the case, we’re going to have to survey our schools and see what the pulse” is like.

While it’s too early to tell what kind of impact the format change will have on the economic boost the tournaments typically bring to Lincoln each year, Maul said Day 1 was a good start, adding that it felt like any other state tournament at the various venues he visited.

He said the biggest logistic challenge for businesses is simply predicting how the week will flow and how many people end up staying. People from a town with a boys and girls team in the tournament might stay if only one team ends up advancing, for example.

That could be the case with Shelton, whose boys and girls basketball teams both made it to state and are playing on the same day no less.

“It’s pretty crazy,” said Josh Simmons, whose daughter Brianna and son Ashton will both play Tuesday. “It’s pretty awesome to see them come up from little kids running around dreaming about it to a reality.”

Senior Brianna Simmons and brother Ashton, a sophomore, will both be playing in the state basketball tournament Tuesday for Shelton.


Brianna Simmons, the team’s lone senior, was a freshman when the school went winless. Now, the Shelton girls are at state for the first time. For the boys, it’s been a 27-year drought.

Both teams are preparing to be in Lincoln for the long haul.

“I think we’re all trying to prepare, make sure we have everything we need because it’s not easy just to come back and get our basketball shoes,” Brianna Simmons said just before the teams departed Shelton on Monday afternoon. “It’s crazy, especially girls, we overpack; we have a lot more stuff than I think the boys do.”

Hotels and restaurants are still dealing with shortages in staff driven by a poor labor market and the pandemic, but Maul said businesses are “doing everything they can to roll out the red carpet.”

At The Cornhusker Marriott, nearly every room is booked. Finding workers has not been an issue as of late.

“We’re staffed up and ready to go,” said general manager Susan Madsen.

She said there is a “celebratory mood” around town, a sign that people are ready to move past the pandemic, which has been in steep decline since the omicron variant peaked in January.

“I think everybody rallies around these big citywide events and makes it happen,” she said.

Contact the writer at zhammack@journalstar.com or 402-473-7225. On Twitter @zach_hammack

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