ATLANTA — For Shocker fans who have made the trip to Atlanta this week, just getting a chance to see Wichita State play in the Final Four is a big deal.
But this is one of the country’s top sporting events, so for Wichitans in attendance, the basketball game is only one item on a long list of rare, big-time events that will give their friends back home in Wichita a bad case of the envies.
All around the Georgia Dome, where the Shockers will meet Louisville on Saturday, a dizzying number of celebrity meet-and-greets, participatory sporting events, free concerts by marquee musicians and other entertainment options are being offered.
“The block parties, the dances, the bands,” said Cecelia Mietzner, who spent Friday afternoon brightening up a Final Four event in downtown Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park with her head-to-toe black and yellow apparel. “It’s a little overwhelming for a girl from little landlocked Wichita.”
The Final Four experience is nothing like what Shocker fans are accustomed to – even those who traveled with the team to Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.
It’s a high-dollar, highly sponsored megasporting event that is attracting thousands of sports fans from around the world, and the NCAA aims to entertain them.
Final Four visitors can spend the weekend attending Final Four-organized concerts featuring major music stars. On Friday, the Zac Brown Band played at Centennial Olympic Park, and Gym Class Heroes played outside the Georgia Dome. Saturday’s lineup includes rap stars Ludacris and Flo Rida, and on Sunday, both Sting and the Dave Matthews Band will perform. And all the shows are free.
Fans also can attend an event called Bracket Town, which invites people to try out interactive exhibits centered on basketball, football, soccer, hockey – even downhill skiing. Fans at Bracket Town on Friday collected freebies, won hats shaped like basketball goals, shopped for Final Four merchandise and had their pictures taken with the actual Final Four trophy that will be awarded on Monday.
A group of guys that included Kyle Blasdel spent the afternoon at Bracket Town. They shot a few hoops and were trying to track down famous sportscaster Bill Walton, who was supposed to be signing autographs at the event. (Among the other sports celebrities scheduled to appear throughout the weekend are Danny Manning, Dick Vitale, Clyde Drexler, Robert Horry and Penny Hardaway.)
Later, Blasdel said, they were going to head back to the Georgia Dome for the Reese’s College All-Star game, a free event featuring teams made up of college favorites such as Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder.
And if the crowds weren’t too horrendous, the guys planned to go see the Zac Brown Band, too.
“There’s not a shortage of things to do,” Blasdel said.
WSU students Jenna Nulik and Sydney Hickman drove all night from Wichita to get to Atlanta, lured by the $40 student tickets the university was offering.
Hickman spent last weekend persuading Nulik – who has a test on Monday – that they had to go.
“I sent her a tweet that said, ‘Just think about all the celebrity sightings. You have to go,’ ” Hickman said.
The friends, who are faithful members of the Shocker student cheering section at home, were most excited about the game and then about Saturday’s Ludacris concert.
The friends said they knew they’d regret it if they didn’t go to Atlanta.
You’re only a Shocker once.
“We just couldn’t pass this up,” Nulik said.