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April 7, 2000
Volume 37, No. 14


Creating the Perfect Match
Out of Iowa: Wade shows students a different classroom
Giving credit where it's due: Child care awardees offer to share honors
Five Iowa graduate programs ranked number one by U.S. News & World Report
InSite: Virtual Hospital

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Creating the Perfect Match

(left to right) Les Steenlage, James Ericson, Brad Pittman, and Del Gehrke were key ingredients in planning the seamless NCAA event. Photo by Rex Bavousett.

By now the chalk dust at Carver-Hawkeye Arena has settled and been swept up.

The gymnastics equipment has been hauled out, the wooden scoreboard is headed back to Nebraska, the staging and the blue and white draping that handsomely framed the arena floor have been packed up and sent back, and the 180 pieces that make up the arena’s basketball floor have been carefully replaced. In fact, there’s hardly a shred of evidence that the venue just hosted a dozen of the nation’s top gymnastics teams for the 2000 NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Tournament March 30 through April 1.

Coordinating and hosting the successful three-day event, however, meant a year of advance planning. It meant hunting down hotel accommodations for 12 gymnastics teams and 23 individual competitors. It meant planning and laying out a 36-page program before knowing for sure which 12 teams would be competing. It meant deciding on a gift to present to advancing competitors and then ordering 163 George Foreman electric grills. It meant devising a menu for the tournament reception. It meant making parking arrangements for a qualifying session that occurred on a weekday afternoon. It meant having the foresight to schedule sessions around Final Four basketball tip-offs so as not to create a conflict for fans. It meant enticing the media to cover what some say is a dying sport. It meant making Iowa seem like the place to be. In essence, it meant a lot of work!

Del Gehrke, director of athletic facilities, always breathes a sigh of relief when a major tournament held at the arena has ended successfully.

Gehrke sat in on monthly meetings for the past year with other departments to plan for the event, but it was in the weeks leading up to the tournament that he and his staff began physically preparing the arena. Perhaps the most demanding job, he says, was taking apart the basketball court—an eight-hour project requiring five employees, who unlock the 180 hardwood pieces and take them to storage.

"Taking up the floor is quite an operation. We try to limit it to three or four times a year," he says. "We’ll have to do it again at the end of April for the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert."

Gehrke says all 23 of his full-time staff members were involved in some aspect of the event, from loading equipment to cleaning up between events to facilitating parking.

James Ericson, an intern with the Men’s Athletics Office, had no idea how much work went into planning and preparing for an NCAA tournament. Ericson, along with intern Brad Pittman and two student employees, spent the past six months ironing out details from the administrative end. Luckily, he says, someone had prepared a guide with a timeline while planning for the 1997 NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Tournament, which took place on campus.

"We had to do so many things to get everything set up," he says. "This year the NCAA changed the format of the tournament. Instead of having the east and west regionals at different sites two weeks prior to the championships, they took place here in the days before the championships—so we had 12 teams coming in as opposed to six."

Les Steenlage is an administrative associate in Men’s Athletics and championship director for the gymnastics tournament. Bidding for the NCAA event, which occurred two years ago, also took a fair amount of preparation, he says.

"A lot goes into the bidding process. We had to provide costs, show projections, and indicate sponsorships. To host an NCAA tournament, a community has to meet certain criteria, such as capacity of the facility and ample housing and locker room space, and the host has to be able to guarantee a percentage of its projections," he says. "It also varies from championship to championship. For example, we can’t host Final Four men’s basketball because Carver-Hawkeye Arena doesn’t hold enough people, yet we’ve hosted the NCAA wrestling tournament three times and are hosting it again next year."

This year’s tournament, Steenlage adds, was especially critical for men’s gymnastics. Competition with basketball and wrestling for fans and dollars has taken a toll on gymnastics programs across the nation.

"The number of gymnastics teams is declining, so it was very vital that the championship be hosted at a site with a good program, a good venue, and a great community—a site that can put on a good show," he says. "Having the tournament here is a great recruiting tool, and being an Olympic year—when gymnastics becomes very popular—we wanted to be sure to put on a first-class event."

UI men’s gymnastics coach Tom Dunn says he and his squad were happy to play host.

"Having your friends be able to watch you, having a biased crowd, not having to travel—it was an ideal setting," says Dunn, who has led the Hawkeyes to 15 top-ten finishes in the NCAA in his 20 seasons at Iowa. The Hawks placed third in the NCAA team finals this year, scoring their highest team total—231.525—of the season.

Plans are already underway for next year’s NCAA wrestling tournament, and Gehrke is looking forward to it.

"Once we get the facility set up and it functions well and the people are enjoying themselves—that’s the most satisfying part of my job."

Article by Sara Epstein


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