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Just in case you missed it

March 20, 2000|By BOB PARASILITI

Sometimes, the best jewels come from hidden treasures.

A golden example of the city of Hagerstown's assets was buried last week. The citizens of Hagerstown used the shovels.

cont. from sports page

The Women's NJCAA Division II National Basketball tournament completed its eighth year at Hagerstown Community College on Saturday to rave reviews. All the raves, though, were from compete strangers.

As usual, those who are outside looking in are the one's with the best insight.

For the record, HCC hosted 18 games of basketball featuring 12 women's teams chasing the dream to be the best in the country on their division of competition. On Saturday, Johnson County (Kan.) Community College captured the American dream.

Unfortunately, it was done in relative anonymity.

You see, the tournament was supported in the usual Hagerstown fashion. Fans stayed away - for whatever reason and excuse that's en vogue - like music fans stay away from a Yanni concert or baseball fans stay away from Hagerstown Suns games.

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And as usual, Hagerstown, you missed a heck of a show ... one that was much appreciated from parts of the country which had never heard of Hagerstown before coming here.

And they want to come back.

Why?

Because, at least to them, Hagerstown is as good as it gets.

To them, Hagerstown is a symbol of greatness.

To them, Hagerstown is what sports - in their case, basketball - is all about.

"This town is a great size for this tournament," said Shelton (Ala.) State coach Madonna Thompson, the surprise team of the tournament. "It's not too big where it would get lost and it's not too small where you can't find something to do. We've had a blast being here, but we're here to win a championship. We'll sightsee later. All we've done so far is eaten, slept and played basketball."

Hagerstown isn't the pulse of America. Sometimes, you wonder if it has a pulse at all. Yet, it's the perfect setting for this national event.

Again, why?

HCC's athletic complex is a major reason the tournament comes here. It is one of the best junior college facilities going. You know it's something special because people complain too much money was spent to build it - like Black Rock Golf Course and any proposed baseball stadium.

The tournament and the facility are two gems in what could be a rather flattering necklace for Washington County ... if someone locally would decide to notice. The only local attendance at the tournament came almost solely from the tournament committee and support staff.

It's a shame too, considering some of the competitive basketball that was played. Hey, the nearly 100 college scouts and recruiters who spent three days here can't be all wrong.

They had to be impressed with what they saw and Hagerstown missed. Things like:

* The gritty, never-say-die play of Shelton State, a team that no one expected to be here. In every game, the Lady Bucs put on unrelenting pressure to get back into each of their four games, two they won - one in double overtime, the other versus the No. 1 team in the nation - one they lost and the other one time just ran out.

* The remarkable way Phoenix College, now the former No. 1, pulled out a last-second victory in the final eight seconds against a shocked Penn Valley (Mo.) team.

* The unexpected way Johnson City neutralized the strengths of Monroe (N.Y.) to give its pregnant coach a baby present no one will ever forget.

* And maybe most of all, the play and competitive drive of 136 women to perform at a high level over a four-day period under extreme pressure that sapped them both physically and emotionally. The championship not only shaped their memories, it could shape their college futures.

And Hagerstown is that starting point for the most basic of reasons.

"This is basketball," said South Suburban (Ill.) coach Darrell Scott, who's team didn't even make the final day of competition. South Suburban is located near Chicago.

"In a big town, this tournament would have so many distractions. In D.C., all the players have heard about the nightlife and clubs and would wanted to sneak out. In a big city, sure there would be big sponsors giving out T-shirts, bags and hats. But that's big business.

"But here in a small town, we stay and hang out in a hotel. We meet the other teams that are staying in the hotel. We go to bed and just say, 'Hey, we got a game tomorrow.' I think it's beautiful. I love this town."

Some could say Scott would love anywhere the national tournament was played as long his team was participating. Others could say he loved Hagerstown because he didn't have to stay here.

The reasons don't matter. The fact remains, that for whatever reason, the national tournament is something great for these women and something great for this reluctant area. An area that can only be enhanced with the addition of university schools, museums and, yes, stadiums. And it would be enhanced for both residents and money-paying visitors alike.

Some of these teams, players and fans may never have the good fortune to come to Hagerstown again. But for those who live here, you can take heart. The tournament will be contested here for at least three more years.

Next time around, it's something that shouldn't be missed.

But, like everything else good - or what could be good - about this town, Hagerstown, it's up to you.

You can get involved and uncover your own treasures. Or you can throw another shovel of dirt on it.

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