For the first time, Asheville hosts the women’s Southern Conference basketball tournament. Games in March mark the first college tourney played in UNCA’s new Kimmel Arena this year.
by Mick Kelly
Two years ago, Ashevilleans cheered when the Southern Conference, a Division I college sports conference, announced it would hold its spring basketball tournament in Asheville. In essence, the conference, which feeds winners to the big NCAA tournament in March, said: Sorry, Charlotte. If Asheville beefs up its Civic Center, the SoCo tourney will be held there for the next three years.
The city promised some $3 million in upgrades and renovations to the shabby Asheville Civic Center, which helped us beat out bids from cities like Charleston, Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Chattanooga. The last time the conference’s men’s tournament was held in Asheville was in 1995. A regional sports commission estimates that hotel stays and ticket sales associated with the tournament will give Asheville a $4 million economic boost. And, an added bonus: Southern Conference women’s games are being played in Asheville for the first time.
Women’s teams—from area schools like Appalachian State and Davidson—are scheduled for seven games at the brand-spankin’ new Kimmel Arena this month, starting March 2 and 3. They move to the Civic Center (U.S. Cellular Center) for the semifinals on March 4 and 5.
Buncombe County Commissioner Carol Peterson, who’s been helping to organize the women’s tourney, says believe it or not, women’s basketball is huge in the area. “We’re just real basketball nuts,” she says. She and a committee of the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission have been reaching out to area high schools and girl scout troops to lure them to tournament games. “We’ve got to keep young people encouraged and athletic and healthy,” she says. “We’re hoping for huge crowds.”
For a complete conference schedule, check out www.soconsports.com.