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Ambassadors for state tourneys will return this year




At recent state basketball tournaments, there were no honorary captains from Hays Area Chamber of Commerce ambassadors assigned to each team, as was the case in years past.

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At recent state basketball tournaments, there were no honorary captains from Hays Area Chamber of Commerce ambassadors assigned to each team, as was the case in years past.

Those teams noticed. They missed the personal touch.

Now, there again will be ambassadors assigned to each team at future state events, starting with the Class 1A Division I and Division II state volleyball tournaments Oct. 26 and 27 in Gross Memorial Coliseum.

Fort Hays State University is the host site for four state events from the Kansas State High School Activities Association. The others are the Class 2-1A state football title game next month, Class 3-2-1A state wrestling in February and the Class 1A Division II state basketball tournament in March. The one likely exception will be at state wrestling, because there are so many teams present, but ambassadors will have a presence at the event.

Tammy Wellbrock, chamber executive director, was attending a function when she bumped into Gary Musselman, KSHSAA's executive director. Musselman relayed to her comments he had received from schools wondering why ambassadors no longer were assigned to their teams at state.

"At that point, we realized how appreciated the ambassadors were in that host role," Wellbrock said. "It went far beyond just providing facts or information. It lent a very personal touch that is needed."

Jana Jordan, director of Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau, heard the same thing.

"It was starting to come to our attention by coaches and administrators, teams, 'We sure miss that program,' " Jordan said. "I wanted to get it reinstated, so I have been visiting with Tammy, and we have been working very hard to get that back reinstated, back up to par.

"Those little towns really appreciate that personal contact. They appreciate the welcoming atmosphere that comes with that."

Shortly after Wellbrock was named executive director at the chamber, there was a January 2011 planning meeting for state basketball. Wellbrock said at that meeting, Brad Haynes -- a member of the ambassadors program and also a member of the FHSU athletic department -- recommended decreasing involvement from the ambassadors.

"Brad was wearing the athletic hat at that meeting," Wellbrock said.

Haynes said he believes he wears both an FHSU hat and an ambassador hat at such meetings.

"I'm both; I'm in both organizations," Haynes said. "I'm part of both of these groups. ... I have to take one hat off and put the other one on, back and forth, and that's OK."

Acting on Haynes' recommendation, the ambassadors scaled back their presence, starting with state basketball in 2011. Instead of having ambassadors assigned to a team, a table was set up in GMC, where people could come to ask questions.

Haynes' rationale was in part due to technology; people now have access to information in ways that were not possible more than 25 years ago, when there were first honorary team captains at state events.

Also, FHSU sends out information packets to state qualifiers.

The other factor was the increasing difficulty in finding volunteers willing to make a commitment. In basketball, for instance, a volunteer's work could be done after one game, or the commitment could last three days, depending on how the team fares.

"From an ambassador's standpoint, somebody may not be able to commit to that many days," Haynes said.

Haynes, assistant athletic director and internal operations at FHSU, for the last three years has been the manager at state events. Whatever the level of commitment from the ambassadors, his job remains the same, he said.

"We administer the tournament at Fort Hays," Haynes said. "How the ambassadors are able to be involved or not involved doesn't impact our responsibilities at Fort Hays State.

"For us, it makes no difference one way or the other, because we're responsible to host the tournament."

It made a difference to the teams, however, and the chamber and CVB reinstated honorary team captains. Brenda Herrman will be the CVB volunteer coordinator. She and her husband, Les, had been an integral part of the program for many years.

"We not only want the team to have a great time at the coliseum, but we want them to have a great time in our community as well," Jordan said.