THE NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Blue lights spark enthusiasm for Fort Wayne’s first NCAA Final Four

Blue lights around town may have surprised you Monday as you drove past some of Fort Wayne’s landmarks on your way to work in the morning or on your way home in the evening. They were meant to celebrate the opening of an NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the fact that its championship game will be played in the Summit City.

The Lincoln Tower, Ash Skyline Plaza garage, Indiana Michigan Power Plaza, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge and the digital signs at Turnstone, Parkview Field, the Fort Wayne Visitors Center and the Memorial Coliseum all shone NCAA blue to commemorate the 45th NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball National Championship, which will be coming to Fort Wayne two weeks from today at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

The light show — called “Paint the Town Blue” — was specifically timed to acknowledge the pairings of the 64 teams participating in the tournament during the selection show held Monday on Tournament games begin this evening around the country with teams advancing from four regionals to the Final Four, which will be hosted by Manchester University and Visit Fort Wayne on Friday and Saturday, March 15 and 16.

It’s a big deal for Fort Wayne to land the Division III Final Four for the first time ever, and acknowledges the importance of landing the tournament and putting another feather in our city’s cap as a great sports town and a great place to visit.

Visit Fort Wayne believes the blue light show was a way to get the city excited about the tournament’s move to Fort Wayne.

“The event has been held in the same city for 23 years,” Visit Fort Wayne sport group sales manager Stephanie Coleman told WFFT-TV. “All eyes are on Fort Wayne, and we are excited to welcome these teams and show the NCAA what Indiana and Fort Wayne is all about.”

The Final Four ended its run at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va., last year where Nebraska Wesleyan defeated Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 78-72, for its first national championship. Nebraska Wesleyan is 26-1 and the No. 1 team in the Division III rankings going into this year’s tourney. No. 2-rate Whitman is also 26-1.

The only Indiana school in the 64-team field this year is Hanover, 21-6, which will play Wheaton (Ill.) at Wooster, Ohio, Friday. The only Fort Wayne area schools among the nine Division III Indiana men’s basketball teams are Trine, Wabash and tournament host Manchester. The other Indiana schools are Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin and Rose-Hulman.

And let’s not forget the women’s Division III tournament, which also begins this week. And in that first-round bracket No. 5-rated Trine (25-2) will travel from Angola to Crestview Hills, Ky, to play 19-6 Emory today. The women’s Final Four will be at the Cregger Center in Salem, Va., also on March 15-16.

We hope NCAA blue keeps shining in town throughout the tournament, to continue to spark enthusiasm for the coming Final Four.