DAYTON, Ohio, March 6, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --When people think of Dayton, Ohio, they might mention the Wright brothers, those innovative bicycle repairmen who invented flight in the nation's heartland.
Some remember the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina were brokered at nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Others proudly point to the passion of the city's sports fans. The University of Dayton Arena has hosted more NCAA ®Division I basketball tournament games than any venue in the country.
Now, a group of influential community leaders are branding the city as the place where March Madness starts. In concert with the NCAA, they're planning a huge street party along several blocks in the city's cobblestoned Oregon historic district on Selection Sunday, March 11. The First Four Festival and March 13-14 games are expected to pump at least $4 million into the local economy, according to the Dayton-Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The road to the Final Four traditionally starts in Dayton. Beginning in 2001, the University of Dayton has played host for the opening round between two Cinderella men's teams hoping for a shot at tournament glory. Last year, the University of Dayton Arena attracted 20,217 fans over two days for the inaugural First Four. It then won the opportunity to host the First Four this month and again next March, when the second- and third-round games will also be played here. This year, University of Dayton and community leaders are shooting for a sell-out. Thanks to the generosity of local businesses, organizations and an anonymous donor, hundreds of tickets will be donated to the families of deployed airmen.
"We want to show the country that Dayton means basketball," said Tim Wabler, vice president and director of athletics at the University of Dayton.
The local organizing committee, a coalition of community, business, Air Force and higher education leaders, is headed by 1988 University of Dayton graduate J.P. Nauseef. The group is planning a First Four Festival it hopes will rival the spirited festivities in cities that host the Final Four, Super Bowl and the College World Series.
Officials will close down several blocks of Fifth Street in the Oregon district and work with more than 300 volunteers to stage a free all-day festival that is expected to draw thousands of fans, families and college students. Big-screen TVs will broadcast conference championship games in the afternoon and the selection show in the evening. A "hot shot" basketball tournament will showcase former University of Dayton, Wright State and Air Force players. Festival-goers can expect live entertainment, high-tech Air Force displays and kid-friendly activities. There's even an Air Force fly-over and an NCAA First Four 4 Miler race that will start and end in the midst of the festival. With heated tents and plenty of restaurants opening their doors, the festival is being billed as an all-weather event. Free parking is available in the transportation center on the edge of the Oregon district and other spots downtown, and free shuttles will run people from the University of Dayton Arena and campus to the festival.
As an imaginative way to create buzz about the First Four Festival through social media Facebook.com/firstfourdayton and @FirstFourDayton on Twitter, 10 golden basketballs are being hidden daily throughout the region. They can be redeemed for a chance to win prizes at the festival.
"We are excited to be working with the NCAA, and we expect the events to garner much more positive, national attention for our community," said Dayton City Commissioner Nan Whaley.
Local fans have helped the University of Dayton regularly rank among the top 30 nationally in Division I men's basketball attendance.
In fact, The Sporting News calls Dayton fans the best in the nation. This year, the University of Dayton Arena won the "Best Under-the-Radar College Basketball Atmosphere" in a two-week Facebook competition. The University of Dayton's rowdy student fans, called the Red Scare, will be featured during a CBS Sports special at 1 p.m. on March 25.