Every year in early March, it feels like something is missing.
In March 1991, the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) held its first Division III national tournament in men’s basketball.
The site selected for that was SUNY Delhi. Still a senior in high school at the time, I was excited for this. Large crowds were expected and I had the chance to be there, see it, and even volunteer for a few little things.
Over the next 20 years, the tournament grew, then lost some interest in the community and, despite a new field house for the home team, crowds dwindled. After 20 years, SUNY Delhi gave up the tournament and it moved to Sullivan County CC in 2012 and has been there ever since.
Delhi isn’t even NJCAA anymore, switching at the start of this academic year to an organization many had never even heard of until this move – the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA). This is a four-year organization, unlike the two-year NJCAA, as Delhi continues moving toward more and more four-year programs.
The only reason I mention that isn’t to discuss the thoughts of that move, rather to point out that the school wouldn’t have been a good host for a tournament for an organization none of their teams compete in.
But the 20 years the NJCAA Tournament was at Delhi was pretty wild. I had the chance over the years to be part of the tournament, be it as a volunteer, on a committee, or announcing. I had the chance to meet many people, cover games for newspapers from around the country, and watch some great junior college basketball.
Unfortunately, the home team never reached the title game. In the early days of the tournament, Delhi had an automatic berth to the tournament if it had a .500 record. When that went away, if the Broncos didn’t make it, the crowds were sparse. If you went to a 1 p.m. game on the weekend (consolation games), it felt like a ghost town.
Better crowds were OK if one of the Region III teams made it far, but that was rare, too. Only two teams (Herkimer in 1991 and Onondaga in 1993) from the Region have won a national title, and only two others (Corning in 1995 and Jefferson in 1997) have even made the final game. That 1993 game wasn’t actually played in Delhi, anyway. It was in Oneonta as the weekend of the tournament brought a massive snowstorm. The teams stayed in Oneonta (most of them, anyway) and with the two in the final game there, they finished the tournament a day later than scheduled.
Snow was often part of the tournament. It won’t be this year as it’s this weekend and weather is supposed to be quite warm, so I’m sure there will be no issues at Sullivan.
But each year when the tournament comes around, I miss it. I can’t say I always went to every game – I didn’t. There were times when I was working and such and would only see a few games, but I tried to get up there and see some of the action. I always enjoyed the years I had the chance to announce games. I hadn’t done it in a few years, but was asked to do the national championship game for the final tournament in Delhi, which was a thrill. Though the last couple of years they shifted things a bit, there were three people over the years who were “mainstays” when it came to announcing the games, and I was always proud to be part of that.
I went down one or two years to Sullivan when Delhi made the tournament. It was nice to watch the Broncos play, but it didn’t have the same feel to me. But, let’s be honest, when you’ve watched something grow for 20 years, it’s not easy to see it move. Sullivan looked like they did a wonderful job, though, and they have a nice facility with plenty of parking (the one issue Delhi always had was parking!), so that’s a good thing.
Still, I miss going to the games here and seeing teams from all over the country converge on this small town in quest of the national title. I’m a big fan of the NJCAA and its mission and it was awesome to watch this tournament start and blossom in my town. So, there’s no doubt, it’s missed.
In the end, the tournament ran its course in town and at this college. It was a wonderful thing while it was around, but the reality was it would eventually move. I still miss it a little bit as this time of the year rolls around as it was nice to have a local “March Madness.”
Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at email@example.com. Also, please Like HooHaa Blog on Facebook!