The large sign just east of our city proclaims to Interstate 80 travelers, “Kearney, Sandhill Crane Capital of the World,” in recognition of the 500,000 cranes that migrate through our region. Perhaps a second sign ought to read, “Kearney, Home of Mr. Basketball,” in recognition of the 500,000 — probably more — youths who have come to Kearney to participate in one of organizer Doug Koster’s many basketball-related tournaments and camps.
This year, Koster’s signature event, Mr. Basketball, is in its 25th year. The 2016 event has attracted more than 30 teams to Kearney, and will conclude today (Saturday) at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
Mr. Basketball, Miss Basketball and other hard court events that Koster organizes continue to make their mark on our community.
Consider, for example, the lifelong memories that come with competing at such high-caliber tournaments. Youths take pride in qualifying or being invited to showcase their talent, sometimes in front of college coaches. Memories of those experiences follow the players home and enhance Kearney’s name recognition across the nation.
Mr. Basketball events put Kearney on the map, and the minivans and SUVs that arrive with young basketball competitors put money in the hands of local businesses and attractions. All of those thousands of families and teams who travel here book rooms in Kearney hotels, eat at Kearney restaurants, and pass time between basketball games at our theaters, stores and attractions. Dollars spent on Koster-organized basketball expeditions contribute to Buffalo County’s ranking as third in Nebraska in lodging tax revenues, behind only Omaha and Lincoln. A Nebraska Department of Revenue report in 2015 shows Buffalo County’s total at $1,096,813.
Mr. Basketball events funnel tax revenue to the Kearney Visitors Bureau to aid in attracting other events and conventions, along with other athletic and extracurricular activities that contribute a healthy share to Kearney’s tourism success. State cross country, state speech and debate, state golf, the six-man football championship and Shrine Bowl are possible because Kearney has built a reputation for easy access, top athletic facilities, and clean and welcoming accommodations and restaurants.
Yes, Kearney is the Sandhill Capital, but we can also take pride in the 25-year history of Mr. Basketball and its associated tournaments and camps. We haven’t erected a Mr. Basketball sign yet, but evidence of the event’s positive influence is plentiful.