OPINION

Rick Fuson: Indy's NCAA tourney was as historic as its backdrop was somber.

Rick Fuson
President and COO of Pacers Sports & Entertainment

This year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was nothing short of historic. On that, we all agree. And most people understand that the backdrop against which it was set was unprecedented in so many ways and logistically complex and had a seemingly endless supply of unique challenges to overcome.

Reasonable people, too, acknowledge the severity and somber nature of the events that resulted in the Indianapolis-controlled environment in the first place.

As we have all said over and over again: May we never have to host this kind of an event in this way for these reasons ever again.

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Not to be misinterpreted as celebrations of a pandemic, the public victory laps and pats on the back have instead been overwhelmingly about pride in our city and the resiliency of a community that, economically shackled for months by a relentless virus, still found a way to deliver as safe, as fun, and as inclusive an event as is possible, given the circumstances.

Visitors spoke glowingly about our city, even while recognizing the limitations of the experiences rightly put in place in the interest of health and safety.

The press, both national and local, shared images and anecdotes of a community that banded together to put its best face forward to the world, proving once again that even in the most trying times, Hoosier hospitality is alive and well.

Baylor players celebrate after defeating Gonzaga during the championship game of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Monday, April 5, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.

People from around the country marveled at how Indianapolis could creatively preserve so many of the elements that make college basketball in March special.

That simply does not happen by accident.

So while books will inevitably be written and generations of fans will be regaled with behind-the-scenes stories for years to come, let me simply take a moment to say thank you.

On behalf of the Indiana Sports Corp., Pacers Sports & Entertainment and Bankers Life Fieldhouse, thank you to the NCAA for the faith it continues to show in our community’s ability to deliver in a world-class way.

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It has long been an invaluable partner and deserves so much praise for delivering this remarkable experience.

Thank you, likewise, to the staff of the Indiana Sports Corp. for months of endless workdays and sleepless nights, planning and delivering with unmatched expertise.

And to all the members of the Local Organizing Committee, those who gave selflessly of their time to make this month something special.

Thank you to the incredible venues that bent over backward, adjusted schedules and ultimately gave fans an unforgettable tournament over three weeks. And to the staffs from Indiana, Purdue, Butler and Ball State universities, IUPUI and the Horizon League for their flawless execution.

Rick Fuson is president and chief operating officer of Pacers Sports & Entertainment and chairman of the Indiana Sports Corp.

And thank you to the Lilly Endowment, Mayor Joe Hogsett and the city of Indianapolis, Gov. Eric Holcomb and the state of Indiana, Dr. Virginia Caine and her staff at the Marion County Health Department, Dr. Kristina Box and the Indiana State Department of Health and Visit Indy for keeping us safe and bringing out the shine in this community we all love.

Downtown Indy. The Indianapolis Arts Council and GangGang. Keep Indianapolis Beautiful and the Cultural Trail. The list goes on. And while I realize I am inevitably overlooking some, there is no shortage of gratitude and appreciation that we must all heap on these and all the organizations and people who brought this event, and our city around it, to life.

Finally, though, I would like to every volunteer who staffed the Media Hub, helped visitors get around, worked behind the scenes at the various venues, and did so many more things you likely never saw.

It seems we are reminded of this every time we host big events – what makes Indianapolis unique as a host city, what makes us special, and what keeps organizations like the NCAA looking to us as the model for success are, without question, our army of friendly, tireless, passionate Hoosier volunteers.

We sometimes say no city or state could host events like we do. That’s not quite true, and it implies some inherent quality that we take for granted.

More appropriately said, few places will host events like we do, and it is because in few places do organizations and individuals like these consistently set aside their own agendas for the greater good. We work at it. We are intentional about it. And we never, ever take it for granted.

Rick Fuson is president and chief operating officer of Pacers Sports & Entertainment and chairman of the Indiana Sports Corp.