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Reis hopes practice makes for a perfect festival

NCAA staffer works behind the scenes to produce a signature DII event

By David Pickle

Many Division II National Championships Festival veterans believe the 2010 fall event in Louisville was the best ever – and they also believe a young NCAA administrator played a key role in that success.

This May, the festival will return to Louisville when Division II student-athletes in golf, women’s lacrosse, softball and tennis converge for their national championships. Once again, Amy Reis will play the lead role in bringing it all together – and then letting go.

The second part is the trick.

“My role is to allow the pieces to play out, let all the decisions be made and the championships planned,” she said. “But at some point in the process, I’ve got to let the control go and let it happen.”

It’s hard to let go when you are directly responsible for the conduct of six NCAA championships; housing about 1,000 student-athletes and their traveling parties; and conducting large opening and closing ceremonies, in addition to myriad other smaller events. But Reis, whose background is in marketing and promotions, has become wise beyond her years.

“From my perspective, no event is ever perfect,” she said. “But the perfection comes from the people not knowing it except your behind-the-scenes folks. The nice thing on this one is that it’s not new to the Local Organizing Committee. It’s not brand new to our host institution (Bellarmine), so the second time around, everybody knows where our weaknesses are and how we can operate a little more efficiently.”

The 2010 festival certainly was sufficiently efficient. Reis and Troy Killian, her counterpart at the Greater Louisville Sports Commission, said complaints were few. The only large headache was a surprise snowstorm on championship Saturday – “and Troy and I weren’t out there creating snow, I can guarantee you that,” Reis said.

This 2012 festival, therefore, is about taking something good and making it better.

Goal No. 1, of course, is to make the championships themselves operate as well or better than two years ago. But beyond that, Reis and Company are looking for new components that will enhance the overall experience. One key addition will be a Festival 5K for Wishes, which will be a benefit for Make-A-Wish on May 19, the day of the championship finals. The festival also has added an Adopt-A-Team program, which will bring pupils from area elementary schools to some championships.

“Those are the types of things we weren’t able to capitalize on as much the last time,” Reis said. “I think now we’re getting to the core of what Division II is all about, but never losing site that the first goal is create the best championship experience possible.”

Reis was familiar with Division II before she joined the NCAA staff, having graduated from Nebraska-Kearney. She hoped to play basketball for the Lopers, but that ambition ended her freshman year. She remained as a student assistant, however, and actually earned a varsity letter for her work.

After school, Reis landed some interesting jobs along the way, serving as director of group sales and community relations for the Quad City Mallards of the United Hockey League and director of marketing and promotions at Eastern Illinois. But the job out of college is the one that jumps off the resume: public relations coordinator for the Geelong SuperCats of the Southeastern Australian Basketball League.

“I wanted to work and live overseas,” she said, “so I contacted them and they were thrilled for me to join them. I did and it was quite the experience.”

That varied background makes Reis an almost perfect fit for her NCAA role, which is to produce the annual festival and to serve as secondary liaison to the Division II Championships Committee. But what sets Reis apart the most is her attitude. She is unfailingly thorough and contagiously upbeat.

“Amy is a bundle of energy,” said Bellarmine Athletics Director Scott Wiegandt. “With her, everything is top-notch. The undying energy that she has and the passion for putting things on in a first-class manner is exactly what you would want in someone running the championships.”

That shows through in how Reis works to make the festival as special as possible.

“We always add the local flair,” she said. “There has to be something about the community that the student-athletes couldn’t get at a normal championship. One of the key things at the last festival (and also the 2012 version) was Churchill Downs. When the student-athletes arrive at that venue, it’s pretty remarkable for them to think that this is just for us. It’s all lit up in Division II, it’s Division II-specific, we’ve got videos and it’s our venue for the night.”

Reis is quick to credit Bellarmine for its role in the festival’s success.

“We heard a lot in 2010 about how great it was to be hosted by a Division II institution,” she said. “Bellarmine – they got it. And they made concessions. We displaced their basketball team with our volleyball tournament right here in their gym.”

The 2010-11 Bellarmine men’s team handled its sacrifice quite well, winning the national championship just three months later.

“That sacrifice spoke to the commitment of a Division II institution and it spoke to Dr. Jay McGowan, the president of the institution, and Scott Wiegandt as AD,” Reis said.

Reis said the good news is that the festival mindset may be spreading.

“I’m getting a lot of calls from Division II folks saying ‘How do I do that?’ ” Reis said. “That’s because they know we had fun at Bellarmine and in the city of Louisville. But the key thing is that they see how they can do this themselves. Bellarmine did it so well that they set the example.”

Coming from one who knows how to set an example, that’s high praise indeed.