Next week is a special week in Kosciusko County.

16 teams from around the country will be making their way to Winona Lake this weekend for the chance to win a National Christian College Athletic Association Division I basketball championship.

You won’t see these scores on the bottom line on ESPN. You won’t see any office pools being centered around these tournaments.

But don’t think for one second that the games at the Manahan OCC next week will provide any less intensity or any less drama than any of the March Madness contests will offer.

The athletes who will play for the eight men’s teams and eight women’s teams at Grace next week are talented. They are skilled players who were, for one reason or another, passed up by bigger and better known college basketball programs.

Maybe they weren’t tall enough. Maybe they didn’t bulk up until after their recruiting window closed.

Or maybe they are like a lot of the players we get to see in the Crossroads League night in and night out who looked at the big picture and they chose to go to smaller schools.

Sure, the lights won’t be as bright and there aren’t TV channels dedicated to covering them year-round.

They don’t care. Neither do I. Neither should you.

What you’ll see them do is shoot the basketball, and at a pretty high level. Again, these are skilled players—both men and women—who never had a problem shooting a basketball. They move the ball quickly up and down the court and there is a special energy in the building when these games are going on.  

The NCCAA loves having the tournament at Grace College. The facility is big, and it feels big. It’s fun to watch players walk into the MOCC for the first time. They look like they are wearing Hickory letter jackets strolling slowly into Hinkle Fieldhouse.

This arena is not their home court—many of which look like high school gyms with 94-feet of basketball floor instead of 84.

It feels like the place to host a championship event…or, in the case of what will go down next week, two championship events.

The players from the competing teams come to our local elementary schools and read to students and answer questions as part of their community service projects.

You haven’t lived until you watch a kindergartener come nose-to-kneecap with a 6-foot 8-inch 240-pound man who reminds them of the giant in the book their teacher read to his class the week before.

Oh, and the price is right too.

For 30-dollars, you can buy a ticket that’s good for all week—all 12 men’s games and all 12 women’s games for that one, ridiculously-low price.

And it’s important to remember that the payback for our community is significant.

While the Grace’s men’s and women’s teams might be in the field as the host school, they might not.

But even if both of them are playing, that means 14 sets of players, coaches, managers and school administators who will need hotels rooms. They’ll need to eat. They need to fuel up their vehicles before they head home.

They are here for almost a whole week, and they spend a lot of money here.

The local chamber of commerce is all over it.

Best of all, the people in Grace College Athletics know what they are doing.

From the time the teams arrive until they drive away, Athletic Director Chad Briscoe and his staff make their visitors feel at home and run a tournament that is worthy of national championship status.

The pre-tournament banquet speakers are on point, and the chaplains are always nearby to help counsel anyone who might need them.

It’s going to be a great week. I can’t wait to get it started.

I hope you appreciate having the NCCAA National Basketball Tournaments here. There are a lot of communities who have seen the impact it’s had here in Kosciusko County and would love to make a run at bringing it to their place.

Come watch the opening day’s games or championship Saturday. Feel the passion these teams bring.

You won’t regret it.