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NCAA’s Wichita announcement ripples through basketball fans

Shocker fans had more reasons to cheer during the first half of Wichita State's game against Kentucky in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky went on to win 78-76, ending Wichita State's historic season at 35-1.
Shocker fans had more reasons to cheer during the first half of Wichita State's game against Kentucky in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky went on to win 78-76, ending Wichita State's historic season at 35-1. The Wichita Eagle

Mary Beth Chambers loves college basketball, but she has never experienced March Madness firsthand.

“I think 2018 will give me the best chance I’ll ever have,” she said.

News that Wichita would host the first two rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2018 spread quickly through news outlets and social media Monday, and the excitement around Wichita was apparent.

Comments on The Eagle’s Facebook page included “Good!” and “Sweet!” and “Finally!” and “Heck yeah. Gonna have to buy tickets early!”

In other words, lots of exclamation points.

Wichita’s selection as a host city is “a great win for our great city,” said Mayor Carl Brewer.

“The March Madness tournament is a marquee sporting event followed for weeks across the globe, and this honor provides us with an opportunity to showcase Wichita, its residents, hospitality and many other attractions,” he said.

Chambers, a self-described sports enthusiast, moved from Topeka to Wichita about three and a half years ago and has enjoyed following the Wichita State basketball team’s recent success.

Landing the tournament “shows that the NCAA recognizes the success that Wichita State has had and that this city is worthy of hosting this,” Chambers said. “We have a nice facility in Intrust Bank Arena, easy access and amenities.

“Who knows who will be playing well in 2018? … But there will be some really big-name schools, some big-time programs that will come, and we’ll get to see them play. It will be really exciting.”

Unfortunately for local Shocker fans, NCAA rules prohibit the team – a co-host of the tournament’s preliminary rounds – from playing in Wichita in 2018. The nearest city, should WSU land a close-to-home tournament invitation that year, would be Dallas.

Even so, fans like Tony and Sherl Weatherbee, who have traveled with the team to tournament appearances the past several years, said they were happy to hear their hometown would host the tournament.

“It’s the best. I wish they did it every year, I think we deserve it,” Sherl Weatherbee said.

“I think that Wichita will do a really good job and just make us proud.”

Julie Huber, a University of Kansas fan, said she was surprised when she heard Wichita was awarded the tournament because “they had overlooked us the last couple times.”

“I think it’s going to be great for the city. We’ll get national recognition, a lot of people coming in,” Huber said.

The last time Wichita hosted the NCAA men’s tournament was in 1994 at the Kansas Coliseum. The visiting teams that year included Michigan, Pepperdine, UMass, Texas and Maryland.

Tad Snarenberger, owner of Tad’s Locker Room in east Wichita, said another dose of March Madness in Wichita will be good for the community. Early estimates put the economic impact around $10 million.

“Honestly, it goes way beyond a fan store like my store,” he said. “It’s really going to help all the restaurants and the hotels and even the gas stations. I mean, it will just domino all the way across the board for business.

“It’s a great thing for Wichita.”

Contributing: Kelsey Ryan of The Eagle

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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