Clay Lomneth/The American Legion

Hutchinson preps to host junior college national tournament

Twenty-four teams from across the nation will descend on Hutchinson, Kan., next week for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I men’s basketball championship tournament.

The event, run by Lysle Rishel Post 68 of The American Legion, brings thousands of people and millions of dollars into the local economy. Hutchinson has hosted the tournament since 1949 and will continue to do so after The American Legion and the NJCAA signed a new 25-year agreement in February 2016.

The tournament field consists of 16 district champions, four at-large selections and four zone qualifiers. San Jacinto-Central (Texas) earned the top seed; the Ravens enter the tournament with a 32-1 record as champions in District 14.

First- and second-round games take place Monday, March 20, through Wednesday, March 22, to narrow the field to the final eight teams. Quarterfinals are Thursday, March 23; semifinals Friday, March 24; and the championship and third-place games, Saturday, March 25. For more information, including a bracket and team info, go to www.njcaahutchtourney.com.

Post 68 summons an army of more than 200 local American Legion Family members every March to coordinate the event, held at the Hutchinson Sports Arena. A local sales tax passed in 2015 helped support a nearly $30 million overhaul of the 7,000-seat arena, with updates including new and improved seating, railing and wheelchair accessibility, new practice basketball courts, rebuilt restroom facilities, air conditioning and more.

Much of Post 68’s annual revenue stems from sales of advertising, programs and souvenirs at the tournament. It also receives payment from the NJCAA to run the event.

“The tournament is one of the major funding sources for the post,” Post 68 Commander David Griffin says. “If it weren’t for the people putting this on and the income from the tournament, this post would not be what it is. It takes a lot of money to operate this post, and the income from the tournament certainly helps.”

On the Thursday of tournament week each year, Post 68 serves up an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast for $5 a person. When the breakfast was introduced in the 1980s, about 150 partook, with funds going to Hutchinson Community College scholarships. Since then, the annual breakfast has grown to feed more than 1,200 a year, and the number of scholarships supported from it has increased from two to five.