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Two-hundred volunteers help Lahaina get rave reviews

By Staff | Dec 2, 2010

Ball boys from area schools assisted on the floor of the tournament. Photo by Norm Bezane.

LAHAINA — Lahaina Town literally rocked as fans experienced a 4.3 magnitude earthquake and shook the rafters at Lahaina Civic Center with their cheers and shouts at the 27th annual Maui Invitational Basketball Tournament last week.

Hosted by Chaminade University and sponsored by EA Sports, the nationally viewed tournament received rave reviews from thousands of visitors and members of a usually blasé media.

Connecticut beat Kentucky for the championship, and Chaminade won its first tourney game in seven years.

More than 200 local volunteers — 90 working in each of two shifts — spread the aloha spirit while millions saw images of Maui’s shimmering ocean, populated beaches and striking sunsets on nationwide and world TV.

Hard working heroes of the event that helped bolster the island’s struggling economy included more than locals.

Though they might not acknowledge it, more than 50 ESPN producers, cameramen and staff from Oahu and elsewhere; a record 100 journalists, who filed dozens of stories; promotion, public relations and sports marketing people; and countless others toiled many hours to bring the tournament to millions of viewers and readers.

Some 4,000 boosters and families, team members, referees and parents almost as tall as their playing sons on the basketball floor filled hotels, restaurants and even fast food courts, spending an estimated $8 million. Many were introduced to Maui for the first time, vowing to return.

Biggest long-term impact came from scenes of Maui shown at commercial breaks and TV spots from the Maui Visitors Bureau, which was also heavily involved in promoting the event on the Mainland.

In a new wrinkle, special handmade surfboards kept here in previous years were sent during a “Spirit of Aloha delivery program” to each school and presented in front of some 240,000 fans at Mainland football and other games this fall.

The visitor’s bureau traveled 11,000 miles on this promotional campaign and gave away 9,600 plastic lei, kukui nuts and flyers showing schedules.

Coming during the first blast of cold November weather and even snowflakes in the west and Midwest, images of warm Maui shown at commercial breaks have value described as “priceless” by the Maui Visitor Bureau’s Terryl Vencl.

Volunteers, some putting in 12- to 14-hour days, worked on the two-week setup, sold and collected tickets, wiped sweat off the courts, directed traffic, handled parking and even checked IDs at a popular beer tented (often filled to the brim with Kentucky fans) operated by Maui Brewing Co.

Veteran volunteer Bill Green, now a security man for the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, worked his 15th tournament. For ten years, he headed a volunteer effort by Napili Canoe Club, with the tournament sponsor making a donation to its members. The club used proceeds to purchase new canoes still being used in its keiki program.

“People really appreciate the hospitality. As a service-oriented economy, we know how to treat visitors,” Green said, as he worked in the hot sun providing security for TV control booth equipment trailers.

There was heavy participation this year from the parents of Lahainaluna High School students, who will use donated funds to finance off-island travel for sports teams, as well as Aloha House.

Lahaina’s Na Kamali’i O Ke Akua Tahitian dance troupe and halau also received a donation for performing before cameras at half-time. Old Lahaina Luau dancers also appeared.

ESPN used six cameras to telecast all 12 games and two “beauty cameras” to tape coaches interviewed Sunday in front of Kaanapali Beach for replay between games and to beam images from a position at the Civic Center facing the ocean.

A Media Room at the Civic Center was staffed by Kemper Lesnick, a Chicago-based sports marketing and public relations firm that managed the entire event and helped reporters.

The firm disseminated amazingly detailed game statistics, provided Internet services and ran post-game news conferences with coaches and players. One specialist even used Twitter and Facebook to provide inside information.

Joining reporters and photographers representing The Maui News, Washington Post, Associated Press and other newspapers from the states was Lahainaluna freshman Sydney McKinney, who asked for, and received, permission to sit among the news corps behind the basketball floor.

Expressing an interest in sports writing, McKinney planned to write a story about Michigan State.

“I love it. It’s exciting to be here,” she said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but if you put your mind to it, you can do it.”

CJ’s Deli & Diner, official caterer for a Stadium Club VIP area, reportedly served thousands of meals. Cold Stone Creamery, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Hula Grill, Cool Cat Cafe and others prospered by provided sustenance for fans in an outdoor area.

Queried by e-mail, reporters and visitors wrote blurbs that read like movie reviews.

“The Maui Invitational is basketball heaven,” wrote Pac West Commissioner Bob Hogue. “I was delighted by everything. The people of Maui and Chaminade were great hosts, the fans from all the schools were colorful and enthusiastic, and the level of play was top notch.”

“The sights and experiences have been beyond description. I can’t wait to come back for future tournaments and for personal vacations with the family,” an engineer for the Virginia Sports Network said.

A Wichita Eagle sports reporter noted he “was in awe of what a great job was done behind the scenes to make it happen. Most basketball writers I know who have covered several holiday tournaments consider Maui their favorite, and I am right there with them now.”

“The visiting crowds make the Lahaina Civic Center one of the great places to watch college basketball,” said another.

Reporters were still “Tweeting” on Thanksgiving. One planned a bike ride down Haleakala followed by a mahi mahi dinner.