Gameday at the Sears Armed Forces Classic

Gameday Prep
Prepping the hangar for our game…from the stands to the court and baskets, we had everything shipped inside to construct from scratch

Gameday, woke up at noon today and it was still 12 hours til tipoff. I started my day off with a bite at the bakery downstairs – the hotel was situated inside the KMCC (Kaiserslautern Military Community Center) which was essentially a mall, complete with Cinnabon and a food court to remind our overseas military men of home. A few fun facts about the base:

– it is home to 15,000 active servicemen (not to mention their spouses and children), making Ramstein the largest population of Americans outside of the US
– all deployed personnel must pass through Ramstein on their way back to the US to get debriefed and processed
– all soldiers killed in action also come through here
– the base also houses a rather large Wounded Warrior Hospital, which the teams each visited during their stay

Apple danish and tea

The game was set up inside a military hangar close to the hotel, which our events crew had worked to convert into a basketball arena across the last 4-5 days. We actually showed a time lapse video of the conversion on our air which was pretty cool. Most of the afternoon was spent on site, either in our production trucks, inside the hangar, or down the street at another hangar where we were shooting some SportsCenter segments on site to promote Veterans Week and the game.



Air fleet and tanks
Getting the planes and tanks ready for SportsCenter set
As part of ESPN’s Veterans Week initiative, SportsCenter provided pregame coverage hits from Ramstein with Hannah Storm and Kevin Negandhi. Also here with some pregame interviews with Coaches Ollie & Izzo.

We had a VIP event the base hosted for us, although prior to about an hour ago I didn’t know a soul that was going. Since then, I met the events team that I’d been interfacing with on this event, and they took me under their wing for the night. It ended up being a pretty intimate affair, with about 40 people in attendance. Hosted by the Brigadier General of the base, the event included a number of servicemen from the base who had contributed to making the event happen, from cable/phone setup to general conversion of the hangar, security (plenty of that here), communications, marketing, etc. As a thank you to these men and women, we arranged for our ESPN talent along with our coaches to be in attendance – this included Jay Bilas, Dan Shulman, Andy Katz, John Anderson, Coach Izzo, Coach Ollie, Coach Calhoun, and their athletic directors. Having worked with and around a number of these guys, I rarely get the chance to actually talk to them in depth, so it was pretty cool for me to have this kind of opportunity too. When it came time for dinner, they couldn’t find where I was supposed to sit so they put me right next to Jim Calhoun.  Was definitely not expecting that.  They had a few opening comments from the Brigadier General and our SVP heading up this event, and in an effort to be inclusive, our SVP named off everyone from ESPN in attendance and thanked us – I couldn’t help but chuckle since here we were with some of the biggest names in basketball and people who risk their lives to protect our country, and here I was getting a shout out for making sure the Sears logo ran correctly 🙂 talk about perspective!

Finally, at midnight local (6pm EST) it was game time. It was exciting to see so many militarymen come out for such a late game and be so excited about it – the base as a whole had so much enthusiasm for our event. The game actually ended up being pretty exciting itself, with unranked UConn taking control immediately, at one point being up 18, only to have the game come down to the wire with Michigan State losing by 2. As if ending a game at 2:30am wasn’t late enough, everybody (and I mean everybody) ended up going for drinks at the bar downstairs – by the time I left at 5am, it was still going strong…

Getting ready for game
We gave tickets out for free to the servicemen on the base, so the stands were filled with military personnel. Some were Spartans fans, others were Huskies fans, but most of them were just plain basketball fans that were starved for a live American sporting event.
Midnight finally arrives, and so tipoff begins at the Armed Forces Classic…
Game time
Game time. Teams wore camo uniforms specially designed for this event.

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