As a self-proclaimed event planner from a young age, I am more than an attendee at an event; more than a volunteer; I am an observer. So, when I was selected as one of the volunteers for the 2016 Final Four activities in Houston; I couldn’t wait to see the event schedule and to be a part of the festivities.
Any time there is a large event hosted in Houston, the city comes alive, even more so than usual. The saying “everything is bigger in Texas” is especially present in Houston. The Command Center for Final Four Houston 2016, was based right in the heart of downtown at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The hotel was adorned in Final Four – everywhere you looked. There were banners from floor to ceiling and each of their four elevators facing the lobby were dedicated to each of the final four teams.
I was assigned to work four shifts between the Final Four Fan Fest and the March Madness Music Festival, both presented by Capital One.
On Friday, April 1st, I reported for my first shift, dressed in my Final Four uniform and ready to work. We checked in at the Volunteer Check-In at the George R. Brown Convention Center where all the action from the Final Four Fan Fest was going on downstairs. Every detail from the signage to the check in process to the safety map was in place. It was apparent that everything had been thought of and put in place.
After a brief overview of how the day went, we were taken downstairs to our stations; as we walked the floor of the George R. Brown Convention Center, there were youth basketball clinics in session, giveaways being tossed at Fan Fest goers, special appearances by basketball legends, autograph signings and much, much more. There were literally thousands of people walking around with smiles on their faces, taking photos and looking at their maps to see where they should go next. That moment was what it was all about. Yes, there would be a very important game played at NRG Stadium a few days later to determine who was going to the finals, but that moment, that event was what Houstonians and guests of the city would remember. I took mental notes on everything; from the placement of the stanchions to the feedback of the guests moving through the Fan Fest; my first two shifts spent working the Fan Fest were not only a great amount of fun, they were educational.
My third and fourth shift started in the same check-in room, but lead me to new territory; to the NCAA March Madness Music Festival. The first night was the AT&T Block Party where I manned one of the entrances and helped security move people through as fluidly as possible. Security at a large event is so many times overlooked by the average person, but these individuals have a very important job to do and I enjoyed working with and learning from them. Not only did I get a taste of what these hard-working individuals have to deal with at every event they work, but it gave me a respect for their standard operating procedures.
My fourth shift as a volunteer for the Final Four Houston 2016, was by far my favorite. I am a music junkie; I love it! And that final night, after I checked in, I walked downstairs and across the street to take my station at the entrance to the iHeart Radio Music Desk. It was where basketball legends were giving commentary on the events going on around downtown Houston; where the artists would stop by and give interviews before taking the stage; artists like Pitbull and Adam Levine, from Maroon 5. My job, along with the armed HPD officer next to me, was to make sure no one tried to approach the desk and to answer questions for those looking for certain attractions. I answered multiple questions in between the Pitbull and Maroon 5 concerts, but more than anything, I watched the crowd move quickly and with ease around the grounds of Discovery Green to enjoy various activities. They were able to do so because there were plenty of volunteers , signage and landmarks for them to guide them in finding their way. This is the detail, planning and execution that should take place for every event, big or small, so that its attendees get the most out of it.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the Final Four took over Houston. It ended up that the two-session Final Four attendance totaled 149,845, the second highest in Men’s Final Four history. I am so incredibly thankful for being selected out of the thousands that applied to volunteer for NCAA Tournament’s Fan Fest and The March Madness Music Festival for the days and nights leading up to the game. I gained so much insight and education through this experience! I was also excited that I put my money on the winning team last year. Now, who will be the champion for 2017? We’ll find out soon enough.