Joe O'Gara

Whether or not you have tickets to this year's NCAA Men's Final Four, you can still experience the fun and excitement that has made college sports so popular, at a four-day interactive festival being held in downtown Indianapolis.

Hoop City Refreshed by Coca-Cola, which will be held at the Indiana Convention Center March 31-April 3, gives people the opportunity to take part in various interactive events that celebrate the biggest weekend in college sports. A Hoop City festival will also be held in Boston, the site of this year's NCAA Women's Final Four.

According to Amber Rae, the Hoop City show director, this type of interactive festival has become synonymous with major sporting events, like Major League Baseball and NBA All-Star Games, and the Super Bowl.

"I've been involved with this type of event that's been staged by professional sports, and there is a different kind of spirit involved in Hoop City," Rae pointed out. "There's a love of the game, more of a celebratory feeling that is very evident with this event, and that helps make it a truly enjoyable experience for the fans."

Among the activities that will make up this year's Hoop City: basketball clinics, autograph sessions with current NCAA coaches and players of the past and a "battle of the bands" that will feature the marching bands, cheerleading squads and mascots from the schools represented in the Final Four games.

For the past 10 months, Rae and her staff of 30 have been hard at work organizing this year's Hoop City. She credits the invaluable assistance that she's received from different people and organizations, including the NCAA.

"Many of the corporate sponsors of Hoop City have been with us for years," she added. "A lot of people want to be a part of this event."

Rae said that in addition to her full-time staff, over 400 volunteers are involved in making Hoop City an enjoyable experience for fans of all ages.

"We're trying to be an affordable, entertaining event for the fans. I really do believe that people will have no problem finding something to do when they come down to Hoop City. It is going to be a jam-packed four days at the Indiana Convention Center, and we want everyone to come down and enjoy everything that's going on."

What helps make this festival so popular, according to Rae, is college basketball's fan base.

"It is so immense, it's incredible! The demographics for college basketball are so diverse, and it's mirrored in the people who take part in the events at Hoop City."

While it will be held during the NCAA Men's Final Four weekend, Rae pointed out that Hoop City is about more than just the game.

"It's not just about basketball. A lot of the philosophies that the NCAA stands for are represented."

And once this year's Hoop City is over?

"On April 4, sleeping in will be a top priority in my life," Rae laughed. "But first, I'll be taking my staff out to dinner."

Three on three - more opportunity

Another event that is part of this year's Hoop City is the POWERade 3v3 basketball tournament. Over 100 teams will take part in this year's competition, which is a local qualifier for the 2006 Hoop It Up World Championships, to be held at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida.

According to Kurt Holtschlag, national Hoop It Up director, "The [POWERade 3v3] event will provide athletes with an organized streetball-style competition that creates an environment for players to engage in quality, reliable and well-organized competition, as spectators experience family-friendly entertainment and excitement both on and off the court.

"Hoop It Up is the only event of its kind that offers athletes the opportunity to compete at a national level, and we're excited to work with Hoop City to extend this benefit to participating athletes."

Hoop City will be open Friday, March 31 from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, April 1 from 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Sunday and Monday, April 2 and 3 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tickets are $7 for ages 12 and up; $5 ages 3-11, college students, military and seniors (55 and over) with proper I.D.; and free for children 2 and under. Tickets can be purchased the day of the event at the Indiana Convention Center or through TicketMaster online at Group, family and advance tickets are available at reduced prices. Visit for more information.

Slam-dunking those three pointers

Not all of the "hoopla" (pardon the pun) surrounding the NCAA Men's Final Four weekend will be in downtown Indianapolis. The 18th Annual ESPN College Slam Dunk & Three-Point Championships will take place at Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse on Thursday, March 30 at 7 p.m.

The nation's best collegiate dunkers and men's and women's three-point shooters will square off in a series of competitions designed to test their individual skills. This event attracts the top collegiate basketball players in the country, and will be broadcast on ESPN later that evening.

Events include: the Capital One Men's Slam Dunk, the Midas Men's 3-Point Shooting Championship, the State Farm Women's 3-Point Shooting Championship and the Sprint Battle of Champions (3-Point Shooting).

Past participants of the 18th Annual ESPN College Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships include: Nick Van Exel, Gary Payton, Kendall Gill, Damon Stoudamire, Steve Nash and 2004 NBA Slam Dunk Champion (and current Indiana Pacer) Freddie Jones.

The men's slam dunk contest is judged by national celebrities who all have a tie to the Final Four host city. In the past few years alone, Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Evander Holyfield, Randy Moss, Wade Boggs, Bob Huggins and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, as well as several college coaches have taken part in the event as celebrity slam dunk judges.

Tickets will be available at the Clowes Memorial Hall box office, any TicketMaster outlet, charge by phone at 317-238-5151 or go to Ticket prices are $10 for adults and $8 for students and children ages 18 and under.

To learn more about Final Four:


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