On Tuesday, student athletes from 16 southeast Nebraska high schools took the court for the second day of the MUDECAS basketball tournament.
Members of the Beatrice Kiwanis worked behind the scenes to make sure the proceedings went smoothly at the Beatrice Municipal Auditorium for the six days of hoops.
Sporting their yellow polo shirts, Kiwanis were manning the snack bar, selling tickets and programs and ushering sports fans into the auditorium for the games.
This year marks the 89th annual MUDECAS—short for music, declaratory and sports—and the Beatrice Kiwanis have been organizing it for the past 14 years, Kiwanian Larry Keslar said.
“This is our one major fundraiser of the year,” he said. “It's just quite an opportunity.”
The six-day tournament is a massive undertaking said Kiwanian Dave Lepant. Almost as soon as the 89th MUDECAS basketball tournament ends, they’ll start planning the 90th.
Getting the ball rolling with the MUDECAS organization starts right away, Lepant said. They start getting the teams in order and, sometime around September, they begin sending volunteers out to the teams' hometowns to sell advertisements for the program.
This year, there are 32 teams from 16 different schools, including Bruning-Davenport-Shickley, Exeter-Milligan, Freeman, Johnson-Brock, Lewiston, Meridian in Daykin, Parkview Christian from Lincoln, Southern from Wymore, Diller-Odell, Falls City, Humboldt-Table Rock-Steinauer, Johnson County Central in Tecumseh, Tri County in Plymouth, Palmyra, Pawnee City and Sterling.
Teams play at both the Beatrice City Auditorium and at the gym at Southeast Community College in Beatrice.
Though it requires a lot of work and preparation, the basketball tournament is a good fit for the Beatrice Kiwanis, Lepant said.
“Generally, we try to look for projects that involve children,” he said. “We did the backpack program. We give out a lot of scholarships. We give out two scholarships for every team that participates in this. Then, we give three scholarships at the high school.”
The tournament is good for the city of Beatrice as well, said Michael Sothan, executive director of Main Street Beatrice, which is currently sharing a building with hundreds of basketball players.
There’s been a steady flow of people making their way downtown, Sothan said, and there's a variety of restaurants and shops to serve them. During the evening and between games are big times for nearby restaurants, he said, with hungry families and players looking for something to eat.
”We've got a captive audience,” Sothan said. “They're here for several days. After a while, they're going to go out and check out some of the things that maybe they haven't seen thus far.”
Sothan said he likes to get out and give a pep talk to nearby businesses before the tournament, and he’s pretty sure they’re up to the challenge of increased traffic. Beatrice is a sports town, he said, with regular tournaments for baseball, softball, volleyball and other sports coming in with the changing seasons.
The Beatrice Municipal Auditorium—which was built in 1940, or 11 years after the tournament got its start—has been hosting the MUDECAS tournament for many years, Sothan said. It’s good to see the venue being used, he said, even if it means he has to temporarily part with some office space.
“It's certainly nice to have them here,” he said. “They definitely end up taking over the space. We've got the referees that actually end up taking over our board room and the coaches take over the old council chambers. There's some areas for the teams back behind the stage.”
The tournament will continue through the final games on Saturday. Tickets are $5 for adults and $4 for students and games start every couple of hours between 3:30 and 8 p.m.
While the crowds are usually relatively modest in size, Keslar and Lepant said they can usually tell who’s playing in the auditorium just by how loud the crowd cheers.
“It all depends on where they're from,” Keslar said. “Like the day we have Freeman.”
“One time, we had Freeman and Johnson County playing in the championship game on Saturday night,” Lepant said. “It was standing room only in here. You couldn't even talk, it was so noisy.”