Over the course of the next four days, 16 basketball teams – eight men’s and eight women’s – will compete against each other in the NCCAA National Championships at Grace College’s Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.

On Tuesday, however, they worked together as one team.

In what sets itself apart from the NCAA or NAIA tournaments, participants in the NCCAA National Championships complete a service project in the community hosting the tournament.

The college student-athletes met with elementary school students, or spent time with residents at Grace Village Retirement Community, for example.

It’s those opportunities before the first game of the tournament even tips off that Grace College Director of Athletics Chad Briscoe says is special for the Winona Lake/Warsaw Community.

“The biggest thing is that it really is about the community. We really appreciate that the NCCAA has created a day where they allow the athletes to go into the community and have an impact,” said Briscoe, who has seen athletics from a number of views as a professional basketball player in Sweden, an assistant basketball coach at Ball State University, and in an office position with the Texas Rangers’ farm system.

“We couldn’t do this if it weren’t for our partners, Warsaw Community Schools, Dr. David Hoffert, and of course the NCCAA. There’s so many people that say ‘yeah, please bring the athletes into the community.’ And then from there they’re able to make a great impact.

“But the other part of it, I think they’re able to plant seeds. And what I mean by seeds is maybe they encourage a kid to stay in school, help an elderly person at Grace Village, or encourage someone at Heartline Pregnancy Center, someone who’s going through a tough time. There are so many great things they’re able to do off the court. And we shared with them this morning in our chapel service, there may be something you do today that may be larger than anything you’ll do on the basketball court the next four days.”

After completing their community service projects, the teams met for the NCCAA National Championships Banquet at Warsaw Community Church.

Scholar athletes were recognized in front of the large crowd.

Lincoln Christian University senior Zach Thompson was presented the Pete Maravich Award, while Nebraska Christian College senior Kayla Bloodworth was presented the Kathy Freese Award.

Following the awards presentations, a panel of six student-athletes – three women and three men – answered questions from guest emcee Roger Grossman.

The panel, which included Grace College sophomore Martin Schiele, answered questions about their major, what they want to do after college, and what advice they would give themselves if they could talk to a younger version of themself.

Schiele drew applause from the crowd after a number of his answers, as he opened up about his childhood, growing up in Hammond, “the hood” as Schiele called it.

In years past, a keynote speaker addressed the crowd ... Wawasee High School phenom Shanna Zolman, former Warsaw standout and “Hoosiers” actor Steve Hollar, and former Baylor University coach Dave Bliss, for example.

The suggestion was made for this year’s banquet, rather than a keynote speak let the athletes hear from their peers.

And it appeared to go over well.

“It was neat ... you’re talking about peer to peer,” said Briscoe. “My dad always used to tell me when I listened to the kid down the street I listened a little longer. I think it just resonates, meaning maybe they’re at the same place in life, battling through some of the same adversities, or doing some of the same things.

“It was neat to get that on the survey sheet from previous tournaments that that’s what they wanted, and I’m glad we were able to provide that for them. Roger Grossman did a fantastic job with it, and it was great to hear the students share real-life experiences, the good and bad, the highs and lows of it.”

Each team will play three games in the tournament, win or lose, another aspect that is different about the NCCAA National Championships.

The tournament tipped off this morning, and the championship games will be played Saturday.

The Grace College men’s team plays today at 5:15 p.m., followed by the Lady Lancers at approximately 7:30 p.m.