BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Get ready, Birmingham. They’re on their way.
More than 1,000 NCAA Division II student-athletes are headed to this central Alabama city to participate in the 2013 Winter National Championships Festival. Five separate team titles will be awarded during the course of the weekend in men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s indoor track and field and wrestling.
Individual honors will also be up for grabs in numerous events across each of the sports disciplines. The Birmingham CrossPlex Athletic Facility will host every event, with wrestling taking place in its Bill Harris Arena.
“The Division II Festival brings together multiple sports disciplines in a championship atmosphere for a number of days,” NCAA’s Amy Reis said. “From a fan’s perspective, it’s an opportunity to watch top-caliber athletes compete. On the final day, on Saturday, they get to watch all those championships crowned in one venue in one city on one day. That’s a pretty exceptional experience for all the student-athletes and for the fans.”
|2013 DII FESTIVAL|
The Division II Festival will feature national championships in men’s and women’s swimming and diving; men’s and women’s indoor track; and wrestling. The Gulf South Conference and the city of Birmingham will serve as co-hosts for the event. The DII national championships festivals are the only place in the NCAA where five champions will be crowned in a single event.
This isn’t just another sports tournament, either. Patterned along the lines of the Olympics, the Winter Festival alternates years with Division II spring and winter championships. That means doing well here this week is extra special because the next chance to participate won’t take place for another three years.
Outreach to the local community is an important part of the NCAA’s strategy for the Winter Festival, and here in Birmingham, it’ll come in several different forms. Approximately 1,200 healthy food packages for local Boys and Girls Clubs will be filled by Festival student-athletes. A number of wrestlers will conduct a clinic Wednesday, and track participants will visit an area children’s hospital.
On Friday and Saturday, kids from two Boys and Girls clubs, as well as the Children’s Village, will attend the Festival.
“At all of the Division II Festivals, it is a priority that the student-athletes participate in community engagement,” Reis explained. “This year in Birmingham, the student-athletes will be doing a number of different things.”
The Winter Festival was moved to Birmingham in August, after challenges cropped up with hotel availability in Cleveland. It will be co-hosted by the city and Division II’s Gulf South Conference.
“I think there are a lot of things going on in the city of Birmingham as a whole,” Reis said. “For fans, there are a lot of things to do. The city is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movements. Our student-athletes are going out to some unique venues. There are some really great opportunities for the fans to take in in the community, but obviously, there’s going to be more than enough to do and see at the CrossPlex with the five national championships going on.”
There are favorites, of course, to take team titles in each of the sports. Schools with long and storied traditions in a respective sport will be going up against schools with brand-new programs, and there’s always a chance for a stunning upset.
Could another stunning upset along the lines of the Miracle on Ice take place? Possibly. Will there be a Rocky Balboa-like student-athlete in the house? Maybe. And that’s one of the most exciting aspects of an event like the one going on here in Birmingham this week.
“We are definitely coming into the competition expecting to be in the mix for the overall title,” said Charles Ryan, head coach of the women’s track team at Academy of Art in San Francisco. “We have a very strong contingent of girls coming to the event. Everybody that’s coming into their individual events are very highly ranked. We’re coming in there to win it.”
Everybody … every team … has a shot.