March 26, 2012

Making Sense: The Genesis of the Greenville Gamble

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

The MCLA championship trophies will be lifted in Greenville, S.C., this spring after three years in Denver. The association's move to the Southeast was the brainchild of Todd Bertka, a lacrosse fan and father who is hoping to make Greenville a destination for the sport.
© Cecil Copeland

Sometimes large events are determined by small interactions.

Three years ago, a coach who knew Todd Bertka's eldest son said in a kindly, southern drawl, "You look like an athlete; we better get a lacrosse stick into your hands." It was a folksy conversation, and one that wouldn't strike anyone as being an important one for the sport of lacrosse. Alas, that brief exchange altered the direction of the MCLA and potentially opened the doors for a lacrosse boom in the Southeast.

Bertka is the vice president for sales for the Greenville, S.C., Convention and Visitors Bureau, and perhaps the most important figure in getting the MCLA to abandon its roots in the western part of the country and take a chance on an untapped location.

"Lacrosse has become a bit of a passion," admitted Bertka, who has three sons playing the sport. "I've fallen in love with the sport just being around it."

About 18 months ago Bertka spoke with Clemson head coach Buff Grubb and broached the possibility of turning Greenville into a mini-Mecca for lacrosse in the Southeast. It started with a bid for a women's tournament that eventually fell through and continued when Grubb said the MCLA was bidding out its tournament for the next three years.

Bertka submitted a proposal, as did San Diego and Denver. That's pretty stiff competition for a city of 58,000 located between Atlanta and Charlotte.

"I knew that we'd be a risky proposition regardless because nobody has heard of Greenville, to be fair," said Bertka. "We come up against that all the time. But we do find is when people come to Greenville, they take to it. They fall in love with it. It's a really cool destination that is really coming into its own. Our business community is thriving. It's really hitting on all cylinders at this point."

What the Greenville proposal had that the other sites didn't was the free use of the two facilities necessary to run the tournament – both a large soccer complex for the first two rounds and Sirrine Stadium for the semis and finals.

"We looked at a bunch of things," said Tony Scazzero, the MCLA's president. "Accessibility, facilities, location, and that narrowed it down to the final three candidates. At that point, we started getting into the financials of it, the local organizing committee, the potential draw areas, etc. It did come down to the financial incentives provided by the City of Greenville and the strength of the local organizing committee."

After the decision was made, Greenville hosted the MCLA's general meeting last summer in hopes of swaying any doubters about the choice. As Bertka said, "They weren't believers right away. There was plenty of hand-wringing." As the board members became more acclimated with the city, the more comfortable they became with the pick.

"We let everybody see it, experience it and tour all the facilities and laid out the entire plan that the organizing committee put together," said Scazzero. "Then I took feedback from our board and went back to Greenville and said, 'These are the thoughts that our folks had, and how can we address them?' They were accommodating to that and responsive, like any good hosting committee would be."

The concerns covered a range of issues. The major one was the surface at Sirrine Stadium, but the city brought in a turf specialist and re-sodded the facility to a point where it rivals Denver, according to Scazzero. In addition, Internet access and accessibility for television were issues. This is also the point where the decision was made to tweak the schedule, putting a day off between the semifinals and finals.

When this whole process started, Bertka also had to get the people on his side of the ledger on board with the decision to go after the MCLA. The city has done well with baseball tournaments, the BMW Pro-Am golf tournament and the Bassmaster Classic, but lacrosse was brand new to many of the stakeholders.

"What they started to see was the long-term potential for lacrosse events of equal or maybe larger size," said Bertka of his colleagues. "Knowing that there are hundreds of tournaments that go on throughout the year, I think they see the long-term benefit of working this sport into the mix."

With the MCLA tournament less than two months away, things are taking shape. Bertka is now formulating how Greenville's first go-around with lacrosse will be evaluated. Obviously, attendance figures are always important, but Bertka is also going to put an emphasis on what he hears at the tournament's conclusion.

"The experience of the teams, players and families that attend is important, and if their feedback is positive about Greenville, we'll be thrilled," Bertka said. "That's almost as important as fannies in seats. We want people to come to this destination and have a great time and have a great tournament. We have some nice things planned for them. We'll look at those two critical factors and we'll know that we had a good event."

Scazzero's criteria is similar.

"We look for the ability to move quickly, the ability to respond to what is going on and the ability to provide solutions to any unplanned circumstances that come up," said Scazzero. "Those are the factors that we look at very strongly. We look at attendance and the satisfaction that our teams have with location. We'll sit down within a month of the event and talk with them and figure out where we hit a home run and where we struck out."

It will be then that we'll learn if this little city can turn into a big-time lacrosse destination.

Game Balls

Jose Buque, Sr., Goalie – Davenport
In a key clash between MCLA-II powers, Buque was a monster between the pipes with 22 saves, keeping the Dayton offense in check and allowing the Panthers to notch an 11-7 win.

Joe Ciringione, Sr., Attack - Palm Beach Atlantic
The Sailfish traveled to No. 8 SCAD and pounded the Bees, 21-14. Ciringione led the way with four goals and five assists in the important divisional game.

Cameron Cole, Fr., Attack - Cal State-Fullerton
The 16th-ranked Titans knocked off No. 7 Grand Canyon in an SLC tussle, thanks to Cole, who scored seven of the team's 11 goals in the 11-9 triumph.

Bennett Cord, Jr., Attack – Washington College
The Shoremen improved to 7-2 and 3-0 in the Centennial thanks to Cord, who scored five goals and set up a sixth in WAC's 11-8 victory over Franklin & Marshall.

Grant Covington, Sr., Goalie – Wesleyan
In an important game against No. 17 Middlebury, Covington made a career-high 17 saves and limited the Panthers to just three goals as the Cardinals picked up the 7-3 triumph.

T.J. Cowx, Sr., Attack – Mars Hill
In the annual grudge match with rival Catawba, Cowx scored six goals and dished out a pair of assists, leading the Lions to a 16-10 victory over the Indians.

Mike Kaminski, Jr., Goalie – Cortland
The Red Dragons traveled to No. 18 Ithaca on Friday night and Kaminski made 10 saves while only allowing one goal in 53 minutes of action in Cortland's 9-3 victory.

Tyler Novotny, Jr., Attack – Pittsburgh
The Panthers split a pair of games, but Novotny was consistent. He scored six goals along with an assist in the upset of No. 10 Buffalo and then added another six in the overtime loss to No. 13 Michigan State.

Brian Scheetz, Sr., Attack – Mercyhurst
Good teams need their stars to shine in the big games, and Scheetz did just that, scoring two goals and set up two others in the Lakers' 7-6 win over No. 3 Dowling.

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. Mercyhurst (5-0) – Beating Dowling on the road is a great accomplishment, but they'll be plenty on the game film for Chris Ryan to keep his kids motivated.
2. Le Moyne (7-0) – You don't see shutouts that often in the men's game, but the Dolphins managed to blank Southern New Hampshire.
3. Merrimack (4-0) – The Warriors have already passed one test with the Limestone win. The next one comes on Saturday when they host Adelphi.
4. Limestone (9-1) – After playing seemingly every other day for the past month, the Saints took a break before they embark on their final push.
5. Dowling (4-1) – The Lions outshot Mercyhurst (39-26), dominated faceoffs (14-of-18) and got nearly every groundball (40-16). How did they lose?

NCAA Division III
1. Salisbury (10-0) – The Gulls pick up some karma points by pumping the breaks in the second half against Frostburg State after scoring 17 in the first.
2. Cortland (6-0) – RIT will provide the Dragons with their first (and last) legitimate offensive-oriented team to deal with when they square off on Wednesday.
3. RIT (5-0) – Some teams are just terrible match-ups, and that appears to be the case with Clarkson for RIT. The Tigers better hope that was the problem.
4. Amherst (7-0) – If this promising Lord Jeff season fizzles out early, it will likely be due to the lack of proficiency at the faceoff dot (49.4%).
5. Lynchburg (8-1) – Assuming they can navigate their way through the ODAC tourney unscathed, the Hornets will likely be the South's second seed.

MCLA Division I
1. UC Santa Barbara (8-0) – The Gauchos were idle this week, allowing them to watch Cal Poly vault them into the top spot.
2. Cal Poly (8-1) – Picking up a road win in Fort Collins takes some serious grit. I wasn't sure before, but the Mustangs are clearly a contender now.
3. Brigham Young (10-1) – Whatever Matt Schneck said at halftime worked, as the Cougars outscored Oregon, 13-3 in the second frame of a 21-11 rout.
4. Chapman (11-2) – Goalie platoons are workable during the regular season, but get a little trickier in the playoffs when there's so much more on the line.
5. Colorado State (8-1) – The Poly loss stings, but there is still plenty left on the schedule, including BYU and UCSB, to get the Rams back on top.

MCLA Division II
1. St. Thomas (5-0) – That third game against Concordia is a really going to be a challenge this coming weekend. That's a tough way to finish up.
2. Westminster (8-0) – Senior attackman Gian Sexsmith is having a monster senior year. He has 30 goals and 14 assists in just eight games.
3. Grand Valley State (7-0) – The Lakers will be taking on a motivated Dayton team this weekend. A road win here and GVSU will be the favorites in the CCLA.
4. St. John's (4-1) – The Johnnies jump back into the Fives after a two-win weekend, featuring a one-goal triumph over UMLL rival North Dakota State.
5. Davenport (5-3) – The Panthers showed plenty of pop against Dayton. Now they'll have to match that against Wisconsin and St. John's this weekend.

Monday Notebooks

NCAA Division II: Dave Klarmann is enjoying his first season as head coach at Mars Hill.
NCAA Division III: Dickinson is learning from its 'learning moment' against St. Mary's.
MCLA Division I: Richmond joined the MCLA this year, but it could be a short visit.
MCLA Division II: St. Thomas head coach Pete Moosbrugger is no longer nervous.

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