Many of the Final Four volunteers who went to training Sunday already had some experience: the Super Bowl.
But more than that got them in the door at Williams Arena. They were buoyed by a love of college basketball, a commitment to volunteerism or simply a desire to show off Minnesota.
The fun atmosphere and a chance to meet people from out of town motivated Lisa Vasquez to volunteer. She also helped at last year’s Super Bowl, which put her name on an e-mail list informing her of other volunteering opportunities for big events.
“We were told there’s something about Minnesota volunteers,” said Vasquez, who lives in Eagle Lake, Minn. “They represent, they show up.”
The volunteers — half the total volunteer crew of 2,000 — watched Sunday as speakers briefed them on National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Final Four festivities, went through security protocol and generally tried to build enthusiasm for the big event.
They’ll help thousands of visitors who will descend on Minneapolis to watch the best men’s college basketball teams compete at U.S. Bank Stadium on April 6 and 8.
Kate Mortenson, president and CEO of the Final Four organizing committee, told them about the pitch she made to the tournament’s leaders. Minneapolis is easy to get to and to get around, she said, and it’s filled with world-class venues.
The final selling point: “We are a community that delivers,” she said. “That means we will deliver the resources for this event, and most importantly we will deliver people to welcome the world to our region.”
She said that while Minnesotans think their home is special, it isn’t on everyone’s top five list of states to visit. She predicted that will change once visitors come for the Final Four.
“As soon as they land here at our world-class airport, take our light rail into our connected downtowns and experience our people, we’ve got them,” Mortenson said.
Mortenson also touted the number of free events that volunteers can attend, though they do not receive free tickets to games.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told the crowd that the world will be watching Minneapolis. “The true recipe for success at this NCAA Final Four is all of you,” he said.
Sheila Her, the event’s director of volunteers, said those who signed up will welcome people at the airport, guide visitors through the downtown Minneapolis skyway and answer questions at events such as the Tip-Off Tailgate on Nicollet Mall. Most of the volunteering will happen between April 5 and 8, though a few helpers will start as early as April 1 and extend through April 9.
All the volunteering spots filled up in four hours, she said.
“Minnesota already has a great volunteer community,” Her said.
Denise Togbah, who also volunteered at the Super Bowl, said she will be stationed in the skyway. She’s an avid volunteer and runs her own nonprofit.
“I just thought this would be another opportunity to show our Minnesota nice,” said Togbah, who lives in Maple Grove.
Kerry Fritze said she volunteered because she loves college basketball. Her family has had men’s basketball season tickets at Williams Arena for 64 years.
“I love college buckets — the fans, the students, the band, the cheerleaders,” Fritze said. “They all have so much fun.”
Erin Adler • 612-673-1781