By Katie Green, Manager of Athletics Communication & Media
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) is proud to announce the first year of the NAIA National Championship Host Excellence Awards. Seven honors were awarded to championship site hosts that have shown excellence during the 2016-17 school year. These hosts provided the student-athletes with great championship experiences that they will remember for a lifetime.
“We know just how much hard work goes into hosting NAIA championships so we want to make sure we honor that effort,” said Jim Carr, NAIA President and CEO. “This, year we had a great group of hosts and are pleased to announce the winners who did an excellent job of creating the right atmosphere, handling difficult issues and working well alongside our staff to put forth great events for our student-athletes.”
This awards program was launched to showcase and reward the excellent work being done by NAIA hosts at National Championships.
“We are thrilled to be able to honor our championship host partners for their outstanding job in hosting our student athletes,” said Mike Higgins, Director of Championships. “We put so much emphasis on the overall student-athlete experience and so many factors lead to the memories that will last a lifetime.”
The NAIA Championships and Communications Departments nominate the championship hosts from the previous year based upon a rating system in each category. The NAIA Championships staff then votes to select the winners for each award category.
The 2017 winners are as follows:
Best NAIA Championship Host – The City of Sioux City, Iowa
The Best NAIA Host is awarded to the championship host who displays excellence in all aspects of hosting a National Championship and produces an excellent student athlete experience. In 2017, Sioux City, Iowa, was named as the best NAIA host for the Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship.
Sioux City has been a great partner alongside the NAIA and it is reflected in every facet of the event as they roll out the red carpet to make certain that all participating teams and fans feel welcome and a part of this special event at the Tyson Events Center. The 20th anniversary celebration of hosting the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship last season is a testament to the hard work and consistency that the tournament staff and Sioux City community continue to pour into making this event so spectacular.
The City of Sioux City has also taken on the responsibility of being the championship host for the women’s volleyball championship for the last nine years.
“We are thrilled to be named Host of the Year,” said Erika Newton, Executive director, Events & Facilities Department, City of Sioux City. “This is a testament to the hard work of the organizers who originally formed the partnership with the NAIA 20 years ago, as well as the volunteers, sponsors, and City staff who dedicate their time and resources to the championships. We are very proud of our NAIA relationship, and are humbled to accept such a prestigious honor. We look forward to the many years to come.”
“It’s been a great relationship with the NAIA and this just validates it,” said Corey Westra, Great Plains Athletic Conference commissioner. “We’re doing what they want and in turn we’re giving a quality event to the student athletes of the NAIA and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. We’ve had this relationship for a long time through various sports and it’s been an ongoing goal of our city to get better and continue to improve.”
NAIA Championship Legacy Award – Gary Picone, Lewis-Clark State College
The Championship Legacy Award is given to a person who has advanced NAIA National Championships and has helped elevate the NAIA brand.
Gary Picone, retired athletic director of Lewis-Clark State College (Idaho) and longtime Tournament Director of the NAIA World Series, was chosen as the 2017 Legacy Award winner. Picone’s legacy within the NAIA reaches back to when he was a student-athlete donning the LCSC logo. Picone returned to Lewis Clark State as an Assistant Baseball Coach before being named the Athletic Director.
Under Picone’s tenure as Athletic Director, LCSC secured a successful title partner in Avista Energy and led numerous capital improvement projects including the 2017 installation of a new digital scoreboard, new grand stand seating and stadium façade. Picone, alongside his team at Lewis-Clark State, have been outstanding hosts for the NAIA World Series.
“It is a great honor to receive the NAIA Host legacy award, said Gary Picone. “Any award related to hosting the NAIA Baseball World Series is a direct result of the efforts of many people. A great organization, the NAIA positively impacts thousands of student-athletes and to have the opportunity to host a Championship is a terrific opportunity.”
Best NAIA Championship Venue – Harris Field at Ed Cheff Stadium, Lewis-Clark State College
The Best Championship Venue Award is awarded to a championship host that provides an outstanding venue to house the championship event and is continually making improvements to better facilitate the event and provide our student athletes with a greater experience overall.
The recent renovations and upgrades demonstrates the strong partnership Lewis-Clark State and the NAIA have had over the last 10 years. That partnership is directly reflected in the community support around the World Series. The most recent upgrades include a 24-by-32 foot video display board, a new set of grand stands with chair back seats behind the home plate area, the addition of brick columns in the new grandstands area and a renovation of the first and third base decking and seating after being granted a two year extension through 2021. For more on the renovation plans, click here.
“Lewis-Clark State College is honored to be recognized for this award,” said Brooke Cushman, Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) athletic director. “On behalf of Lewis-Clark State College, the LC Valley and on behalf of our volunteers and sponsors we would like to thank the NAIA for their partnership with this event over the last 18 years. We thank the NAIA staff, the games committee members and all those who help make this event special every year.”
Best NAIA Student-Athlete Championship Experience Event – College of the Ozarks (Mo.), Dixie Stampede
The hallmark to the NAIA National Championship events is the opening student athlete experience. The event is expected to create a memorable experience for the student athletes as well as being a showcase for the host city.
In 2017, the College of the Ozarks (Mo.) provided a great event, alongside one of their sponsors the Dixie Stampede, leading up to the Division II Men’s Basketball Championship.
“College of the Ozarks is very honored to receive this award from the NAIA. We strive to do the best job possible in all aspects of hosting the NAIA DII Men’s Basketball National Championship, and we have had great success thanks to the remarkable support of our sponsors and volunteers,” said Dori Rapinchuk, College of the Ozarks tournament co-director. “The applause for this specific award, however, should be directed to our amazing sponsor of the Tip-Off Banquet—Dixie Stampede. Dixie excitedly came on board with us for our first NAIA Championship in 2000, and they have continued through the years to provide an incredible venue—tipping off the championship in a big way for all of our 32 participating teams and their fans.”
Best NAIA Champions of Character Event – Mobile Tennis Center, Mobile, Ala.
The NAIA prides itself on providing a Champions of Character program that promotes the five core values of Integrity, Respect, Responsibility, Sportsmanship and Servant Leadership. Furthermore, each National Championship is expected to engage the student athletes in some kind of program that promotes or provides them an opportunity to serve the community in which the championship is hosted that incorporates the five core values.
In 2017, the Mobile Tennis Center hosted the Men’s and Women’s Tennis National Championships and provided each of the 48 teams the opportunity to visit amongst nine local schools. They conducted tennis clinics along with teaching the five core values of the Champions of Character program. The Mobile Tennis Center coordinated one of the most memorable experiences for our student-athletes.
“We take great pride in the Champions of Character Award,” said Scott Novak, General Manager & Tournament Director of Mobile Tennis Center. “Having approximately 500 NAIA Tennis players going into the elementary and middle schools for two days to teach tennis is fantastic. The NAIA Tennis players have become an integral part of our local community through their school visits and have really represented the NAIA and their respective schools in a positive manner. Having the NAIA Tennis players teach tennis and explain the core values of sportsmanship has provided great role models for our local youth in Mobile.”
Best New NAIA Championship Host – Rocky Mountain College, Billings, Mont.
The Best New Host Award is given to the host that displays excellence in all aspects of hosting a National Championship, produces an excellent student athlete experience and is in their first year of hosting a championship event.
In 2017, Rocky Mountain College (Mont.) and Billings, Mont., were awarded as the best new host as the host of the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship. The people in Billings made the teams feel like they were playing a home game. From a coach’s social overlooking the rim, to store owners welcoming you when you walked into their shop, everybody knew why basketball players were in town. And they did it in a short six month timeline. The community as a whole embraced the event and gave the student-athletes an experience they will never forget.
"This is a great honor for the city of Billings, Visit Billings and Rocky Mountain College," said Bruce Parker, Director of Athletics at Rocky Mountain College. "It shows what hard work, tremendous enthusiasm and a commitment to the student-athlete can help you accomplish. I think we are all very proud of this honor and it helps to set the stage for a more impressive championship in 2018."
Best NAIA Championship Hotel – Mobile Tennis Center, Mobile, Ala., Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel
The Best Championship Hotel Award is a place that has the best accommodations for our student athletes. In 2017, the best championship hotel was named to the championship host the Mobile Tennis Center and Mobile, Ala. at the Men’s and Women’s Tennis National Championship. The host hotel for the championship was the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel, a part of Marriot International.
The Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel offered a great space for the student-athletes to experience a very high-quality hotel with all the amenities. The complimentary breakfast and parking was a great addition that many of the attending institutions were appreciative of. The location in downtown Mobile allowed coaches and student-athletes to be within walking distance of many of the great restaurants in Mobile. In addition to all of that, the staff at the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel was attentive to all of the different needs during the NAIA Tennis National Championships, which provided a great opening banquet and the necessary meeting rooms.
“The hotels in Mobile have been fantastic in working with us for all of our tennis events throughout the year,” said Scott Novak, General Manager & Tournament Director of Mobile Tennis Center. “We are fortunate they also help provide funding for many of our tennis events especially the NAIA Tennis Championships. In particular, for the NAIA tennis event, the Riverview Renaissance has been a fantastic partner as the host hotel for the past twelve years with the NAIA Championships. The Riverview goes first class in helping fund a first class banquet for 550 people including a music and picture presentation. Recently we signed a five year extension for the NAIA championship to stay in Mobile. In conjunction we signed a five year contract with the Riverview Renaissance to be the host hotel for the NAIA Championships.”
For more information about championship hosts, click here.