Lueken, volunteers help to make National Championship Festival a success

Published by , Author: Brendan Howe - Senior Rocket Contributor , Date: December 6, 2018

Last week, Slippery Rock University served alongside Clarion University as a host institution for the NCAA Division II National Championship Festival in Pittsburgh. Adding to the approximately 1,500 volunteers who have helped to make the event a success in the past, director of athletics Paul Lueken worked with over 40 student volunteers, many of whom are either involved with the athletic department or study as sport management majors.
It was almost two years ago that officials from SportsPITTSBURGH, a branch of Pittsburgh’s tourism promotion agency, contacted Lueken and explained their need of a sponsor university to submit a bid to the NCAA with. After talking to his staff, Lueken resolved it would be a great opportunity to get his school extra exposure.
Earlier this year, in mid-April, Pittsburgh was named as the host of the 11th festival and the national championship events for each of the six fall sports that came along with it.
Student volunteers helped with anything from setting up and tearing down tents, banners, and temporary fencing to preparing nearly $50,000 in championship merchandise and apparel ready for sale. The school’s athletic training covered the sporting venues. Heads of the SRU’s athletic communication, Jon Holtz and Tyler McIntosh both served as media service coordinators for the event and, along with Ben Matos, did statistical and press box work.
Modeled after the Olympics, the event commenced on Tuesday night with an opening ceremony. There, Lueken and others helped present individual and team academic awards. Following days of team practices on Wednesday and Friday, head field hockey coach Julie Swiney, also a member of the NCAA’s games committee, and her staff and players manned the Arthur J. Rooney Athletic Field on Thursday, staging both the field hockey semifinals and championship game.
On Saturday morning, cross country and track and field head coach John Papa and his team worked as course marshals for over 250 runners in Schenley Park. Lueken described the task of altering the Bob O’Connor Golf Course into a cross-country path as the most labor-intensive of the week.
In addition to the festival, SRU and SportsPITTSBURGH were chosen to host next year’s D-II men’s and women’s soccer national championships, which will be held at Station Square’s Highmark Stadium. The 2019 cross country regionals will take place at SRU’s new home course, the Lawrence County Fairgrounds.
Slippery Rock hosted the UCA Allegheny cheerleading regional this past Sunday along with multiple high school football playoff games earlier in the fall. Lueken looks forward to the accommodation of several other high school events, such as basketball games, playoff softball and baseball, and the WPIAL and District 10 track and field championships this winter and spring.
“Those are all great things to get people to come to see Slippery Rock and how nice it is,” Lueken said. “Obviously, all the things we do and host, we do it for a lot of reasons. [It helps to] increase scholarship money for student-athletes and to bring student-athletes onto campus that we want to recruit. We bring lots of people to campus that might want to go to school here, not just student-athletes.”
All told, the festival was a success thanks in large part to Lueken and his crew of volunteers. He was thanked by Roberta Page, who oversees Division II championships, and Rich Fitzgerald, the chief executive of Allegheny County. He also received emails from people around the country telling him how great of an experience the week was.
“It was a team effort, without a doubt,” Lueken said. “I think it was really rewarding to see it all come together and to show that Slippery Rock can run a national event. We can be on the big stage with anyone else.”