Friday, March 15, 2019 1:00 am
Just for sport
City's reputation grows among fans, players alike
At a glance
6 p.m. Swarthmore vs. Christopher Newport
8 p.m. Wisconsin-Oshkosh vs. Wheaton (Illinois)
Saturday 7 p.m. Semifinal winners
Fort Wayne residents know sports is big here. People in other places are beginning to agree. This weekend, thousands of basketball fans are in town for the NCAA Division III men's Final Four tournament.
We hope this first of four Final Fours here is a great success, and that those who attend take advantage of some of the city's many other attractions. (Lots of suggestions and more information about the tournament are at muspartans.com/NCAA.)
Manchester University, Visit Fort Wayne and Memorial Coliseum are hosting this event and working to attract others. The 2020 NCAA Division I women's basketball regional is already booked. The seeds for that tournament were planted in 2014 when a Notre Dame women's home game was played at the Coliseum. As The Journal Gazette's Justin Cohn reported this week, Irish coach Muffet McGraw remarked afterward that Fort Wayne should look into hosting a regional, a suggestion the Coliseum's Nathan Dennison quickly followed up.
In terms of pure enthusiasm for basketball, Fort Wayne has long been able to hold its own in a hoops-crazy state. The roundball menu includes the Mad Ants, a G League team of the Indiana Pacers, as well as the Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons. In 2016, while still the IPFW Mastodons, the team felled a No. 3 IU-Bloomington team in a memorable overtime game at the Coliseum. The Saint Francis Cougars have won two NAIA basketball championships – men's, in 2010, and women's, in 2014.
Cougars football has become one of the NAIA's dominant programs, as well, winning national titles in 2016 and 2017. The Komets' loyal fan base and the success of the TinCaps and Parkview Field show the city's taste for hockey and baseball. Last summer, Damarcus Beasley, a pro soccer star, gave back to his home city by partnering with Fort Wayne's Parks and Recreation Department and the Indiana Soccer Association to open a site for futsal, a scaled-down form of soccer that flourishes on small, urban courts. Of course, area colleges and universities offer a range of other sports programs, as well.
Turnstone continues to expand its role as a sports center for children and adults with disabilities. Last summer, it was designated a Paralympic training site. Now Turnstone is preparing to host the 2019 International Blind Sports Federation Goalball International Qualifier and the federation's Judo International Qualifier this June and July.
The addition of lights and plans for an adaptive field for children with disabilities will draw thousands more fans to the World Baseball Academy's ASH Centre. And multipurpose venues such as The Plex, SportONE/Parkview Fieldhouse and its Ice House, Empowerment Sports Club and Spiece Fieldhouse are seemingly always full. Swimming and bowling venues draw participants as well.
Our city's growing sports presence intertwines with Fort Wayne's other goals. The visitors sports bring in – and residents who attend games, for that matter – boost the local economy, and every tournament Fort Wayne hosts augments the city's name recognition.
Even more significant are the myriad ways spectator and participatory sports are enhancing this community's quality of life. That is a major factor in attracting and keeping the workers and companies we need in order to continue to grow. So welcome, Swarthmore, Christopher Newport, Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Wheaton fans. Come back and visit us again.