Eli Ruiz | Democrat
In a rare, quiet moment overseeing the NJCAA national basketball tournament in Loch Sheldrake, SUNY Sullivan athletic director Chris DePew consoles sophomore Marcus Henderson after the Generals’ first-round loss.
Story by Eli Ruiz
LOCH SHELDRAKE March 19, 2013 For the third straight year, SUNY Sullivan played host to the three-day National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III national basketball tournament. With the most tournament championships (four), the most tournament appearances (11) and the most overall tournament wins (23), it's safe to say that SUNY Sullivan and the national tournament seem to go together.
And the man responsible for bringing the event which had traditionally been held at SUNY Delhi and draws JUCO teams and fans from all over the country to Sullivan County is SUNY Sullivan athletic director Chris DePew.
“If there was a prototype for what a college level athletic director should be I think it'd be him,” says SUNY Sullivan photography instructor and official tournament shutterbug Michael Bloom of the dynamic DePew. “I don't actually know how many Chris DePews there are because he's everywhere,” adds Bloom.
Indeed, if you go to just about any SUNY Sullivan athletic event, chances are, that somewhere, whether in the stands or on the sidelines, whether talking to school alumni or cleaning up a spill on the court, you’ll find DePew somewhere near the action.
Just one of the large-scale events DePew has attracted to SUNY Sullivan the Eastern States high school wrestling tournament is also held at the college DePew just last spring signed a new three-year contract to host the NJCAA national tournament at the school through 2016.
DePew, who as coach of the Generals in 2007 won a national championship of his own, took some time out of his very busy schedule this weekend to talk with the Democrat about what it takes to put on a great basketball tournament.
Asked how he initially attracted the tournament, DePew talked about his several trips to the tournament as Generals' coach and the program’s dominance of the event, saying, “Sullivan has basically owned the tournament, you name it we hold every record. When I heard that the folks at [SUNY] Delhi were putting it [the tournament] away, I said, 'what better place to hold the tournament than here? Right here at the school that's owned it.”
DePew explained that at that particular time a lot of new administrators were just arriving at the college. “I was the one who'd been to the tournament and knew what it was all about, so in all honesty, at that point in time , I was kind of like a one-man band, but I began a quest to get the tournament here.”
In pitching his idea to the school's administration DePew says he not only referenced the basketball program's illustrious history and tradition in the tournament, but also rationalized that it would be more cost effective to host the tournament than to have to travel to it and pay for not just the trip to another even farther venue, but also for the team and staff's food, lodging and more.
He recalls, “So Delhi's giving up the tournament and you had Richland, TX. and Rochester, Minn. [in the running for hosting the tournament], that's going to be a 30 to 40 grand venture if we qualify, when we can just have it here and save some money. We may lose a few grand a year, but it still won't add up to the cost if we went to one [national tournament] somewhere else, and considering the fact that we qualify for the tournament more than 70 percent of the time, it's pretty good odds that were going to have to go to it.
“That was kind of the sale and I was very lucky that the admin jumped right on-board with it quick,” affirmed DePew.
The next step in the process was the creation of a bid video and package for the tournament officials. “We did what we had to do and we were awarded that first bid,” exclaims an animated DePew.
DePew admits to needing a little help at first, offering, “Fortunately to start, I had some very good friends at Delhi, and I was lucky enough that they were so helpful and willing to offer some guidance through the initial process.”
He reserved the most praise, though, for his staff, and said, “I'm just so lucky to also have such an amazing and wonderful staff because without all of them and their hard work and dedication this wouldn't even be possible.”
With the school's first NJCAA tournament bid officially expiring at the conclusion of this year's tournament, DePew seemingly relishes the challenge of preparing to begin fulfilling his new contract. “Now the work starts all over with a new hotel contract, a new food services contract, and the new contract with the NJCAA It's a lot of work, explains DePew. Describing what he called “the million pieces of minutiae” that it takes to run the event, DePew said, “My family and staff think I'm crazy for running it [the tournament] but that's why it seems like I'm everywhere; because I have to be everywhere. From making sure the clock's set to making sure there are no problems with scheduling; from making sure a spilled bucket of water gets cleaned up to making sure that medical services are here and coordinated; from making sure the teams all get game film to making sure the webcast is streaming and our sponsors get airtime; and from making sure the locker-rooms are set up to making sure the teams' laundry has been done. There's just a ton of things that need to get done to make this all work, but I wouldn't have it any other way.”
Asked Saturday when he'll actually start work on planning next year's national tournament, DePew glances quickly at his wristwatch, and in his best deadpan, he says, “In a few hours.”
Regarding the economic impact on not just the college, but the surrounding area, DePew references a Sullivan County Visitors Association impact study done on the event that found the annual tournament generates up to more than $1 million for the local economy. He says, “The route of travel between here and the Villa [the Villa Roma Hotel in Callicoon where the visiting teams lodge during the tournament], those business people along that route have to be happy about this. These folks are driving back and forth there multiple times a day and hitting the McDonalds, the Pizza Hut, the [Liberty] Diner, the gas stations and the grocery store.
“At the end of the day, people know me for this. We don't do it for pats on the back, but it certainly feels great when someone comes over and says ‘nice job.’ It's especially nice when it's someone you've never met until Wednesday when their team arrives and says, ‘this was amazing. It was a wonderful experience, thank you.' That's what it's all about.”