The Tip-off: The Final Four that never was still made community impact

Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s (GWCCA) downtown Atlanta campus was sure to be brimming with excitement and activity in celebration of college basketball during the first weekend in April.

The champs would cut down the nets and the “One Shining Moment” montage would scroll on millions of screens.

The culmination of March Madness wasn’t supposed to be March Sadness.

But that’s the way the ball bounces when you’re dealt a pandemic and unprecedented circumstances.

More than a month after concerns over the rapidly-spreading coronavirus forced the cancelation of the 2020 NCAA Men’s Final Four slated for April 4 and April 6 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (MBS), with ancillary events throughout the weekend at Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), Centennial Olympic Park and campus neighbor State Farm Arena, the local organization responsible for assisting with the planning and production of what was going to be the GWCCA campus’ fourth Final Four has tied up several loose ends.

Although the games weren’t to be, and A-list concerts featuring the likes of Taylor Swift didn’t happen, the Final Four is more than feats of athleticism and entertainment – and the Atlanta Basketball Host Committee still made a positive impact on the metro Atlanta community, leaving a lasting legacy (see graphic below).

As a side note, this blog series was conceived to track the GWCCA campus’ march to the 2020 NCAA Men’s Final Four. In fact, the last installment detailing the Reese’s Final Four Friday was ready for publishing when the NCAA men’s basketball tournament began to quickly unravel. That post was shelved, and this will be the final The Tip-off blog, a series which the Host Committee and NCAA aided tremendously in providing information and access.

That brings us to the question: What became of the Final Four initiatives highlighted in The Tip-off?

The Jan. 30 edition of The Tip-off featured The Read to the Final Four academic challenge involving metro Atlanta third-graders. Utilizing a digital platform and patterned after the bracket-style basketball tournament that annually captivates the nation, 359 elementary schools participated, with 68 schools invited to the virtual Big Dance in a star-studded bracket reveal ceremony held Jan. 27 at B.C. Haynie Elementary in Clayton County. Whereas the finalists weren’t able to cash in on the promised field trips to the Final Four Fan Fest presented by Capital One at the GWCC, four schools did end up on top: E.J. Swint Elementary, Huie Elementary, Riverdale Elementary, and Tara Elementary, all in the Clayton County school district. Overall, students participating in the challenge set a new record, logging more than 15.9 million reading minutes from Nov. 5 to March 15. So the program arguably fulfilled its mission to improve reading efficiency among third graders.

In light of school systems shifting to virtual classroom models due to the pandemic, organizers of the Read to the Final Four program recognized an “increased need for online learning resources for students and teachers alike,” so “all 359 participating schools will have access to the digital platform through June 30,” according to a press release issued April 6.

The Feb. 27 installment of The Tip-off focused on the Final Four Dribble, giving readers information about how to sign their youngsters up to dribble basketballs en masse through the streets of downtown Atlanta. Although the throng of dribblers did not parade from GWCCA’s International Plaza, outside of MBS and into GWCC Building C on April 5 as planned, 3,200 basketballs and T-shirts intended for the event are being donated to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta.

And that leads directly to another Final Four initiative.

The 2020 NCAA Final Four Legacy Project presented by AXE benefitted the Joseph B. Whitehead Boys & Girls Club in southeast Atlanta, tipping off on Feb. 11 with a Day of Service. Hundreds of volunteers gathered to help restore the facility, painting walls and doors as well as inspirational murals, installing new shelving and furniture, enhancing play spaces and building outdoor awnings.

In addition, the Host Committee donated more than 1,500 uniforms designed for volunteers who were set to man 6,440 shifts between March 30 and April 7. The outfits include a branded polo shirt and hat, poncho, flashlight and drawstring bag and are being donated to 19 recreation centers that are providing meals to students during school closures. Also, clear bags intended for the Final Four festivities are being donated by Coca-Cola to community organizations that need them across the U.S, from Atlanta to Phoenix.

“Serving as the host city for the Final Four extends far beyond the games, and it is important we recognize the positive impact on students throughout Georgia from elementary schools to our leading universities,” said Carl Adkins, Executive Director, Atlanta Basketball Host Committee. “The activations and attention to detail that went into planning and preparing for the Final Four and DII, DIII Championship is something the entire Atlanta community should be proud of and we are grateful to have such incredible partners who were there every step of the way.”