By Lew Blaustein, GreenSportsBlog
The 2019 NCAA Women’s and Men’s Final Fours both had sustainability initiatives. And both featured Green Teams, squads of volunteers that helped educate fans about environmentally friendly behaviors and to direct them to place their food waste in the proper receptacles.
Aside from that, the two events were about as different as the host cities, Tampa for the women and Minneapolis for the men.
GreenSportsBlog spoke with the leaders of the Green Teams about what they and their teams experienced.
On Friday, we will visit the Twin Cities to look at the Men’s Final Four. But today, our focus is on Tampa and the first Women’s Final Four to feature a Green Team.
“Sustainability is not really a thing in the Tampa area.”
So observed Madeleine “Maddy” Orr, faculty member in Sport Administration at Ontario’s Laurentian University, and a founder of Sportecology.org, a new platform that connects people working in Green-Sports with research that can help propel their efforts forward.
Tampa’s lack of recycling infrastructure was certainly a challenge.
“It seems like recycling is not a priority in the Tampa area,” Orr noted. “Only two people in Tampa city government had responsibility for promoting and overseeing recycling. They do their best but are resource-challenged and also fight an uphill battle against what seems like public apathy about sustainability. The local recycling plant can’t accept recyclable cups. Composting? Nowhere to be found.”
The local organizing committee, which, per Orr “did a great job on social sustainability — the event was accessible, inclusive, there were free community events” — had little experience with environmental sustainability, especially for a big event like the Women’s Final Four.
And Orr only had 90 days to organize the Green Team and to support the rudimentary environmental sustainability that was led by Coca-Cola, an NCAA corporate partner.
Hey, no one said organizing the first-ever Green Team for a Women’s Final Four would be easy.
But Maddy Orr doesn’t flinch when she believes in an idea and Tampa, there was only one way to go, green-wise, and that was up. So she went to her boss, Tony Church, in early January with a proposal to take a (green) team of Laurentian students down to Tampa.
“Before getting approval, I secured a block of hotel rooms on my personal credit card — with free cancelation of course,” Orr recalled with a laugh. “Professor Church said the department couldn’t help unless we got a critical mass of students to go. Now bear in mind that Canadians really don’t get college basketball, women’s basketball in particular. I talked with 80 students across two classes, with a goal of getting 30 to sign up. Even 20 would’ve been okay. We had 50 volunteers. I had to give a women’s basketball quiz to cull the group down to 30 second-year undergrads.”
GREEN TEAM SCORES WITH RECYCLING MESSAGE AT FAN FEST
Aside from the very welcome early spring Florida weather, the first thing the all-Canadian Green Team noticed when they arrived in Tampa was the lack of recycling bins…anywhere.
“The students were shocked and needed a pep talk,” Orr said. “Recycling bins are ubiquitous in Canada. So when we arrived on the Thursday before the Friday night semifinals, we put on shorts and went to Curtis Hixon Park on the waterfront, one of the central locations for fans to congregate. Coke had put out recycling bins. We branded them for the Final Four and arrayed them through the park.”
Despite Tampa being a recycling laggard, the Green Team had a good day at Friday’s “Tourney Town” Fan Fest inside the city’s convention center.
“First of all the place was crowded, especially with local school children, so we had access to a bunch of ten year-olds, and ten year-olds get recycling and much more regarding the environment,” Orr recalled. “One Green Team member badgered the DJ to make announcements about recycling, and it worked! And the team did a great job of reminding people as they waited in long lines to do the Pizza Hut Three Point Challenge. Outside on the plaza, our team became everyone’s photographer, urging people to recycle as they snapped pictures. The key was to be upbeat and they were.”
As the players for the Baylor Bears and the Oregon Ducks began their early warmups for Friday’s first semifinal, the Green Team was also getting ready. Sam Carr, Amalie Arena’s director of facilities and analysis, prepared them to perform at a championship level.
“Sam gave me hope for Amalie Arena as he is very passionate about sustainability,” offered Orr. “He’s trying to make it a much bigger initiative there.”
Training complete, the Green Team was deployed throughout the arena. They collected recycling all night long — some were stationed by the condiments stand, acting as “garbage goalies” by directing fans to dispose of their waste in the proper bins; others walked up and down the aisles, taking cans from fans and providing recycling education in an unobtrusive, positive fashion.
Sunday’s championship final, in which Baylor nipped Notre Dame 82-81, was basically a repeat of the semifinal from a Green Team perspective: Educate (upbeat!), collect recycling up and down aisles, garbage goalie-ing.
FEEDBACK: TAMPA READY TO UP GREEN-SPORTS GAME?
The Green Team was a big hit in Tampa, especially among out-of-town fans.
“Oregon and UConn fans were particularly enthusiastic about recycling and the Green Team,” reported Orr. “Unfortunately, local fans were less engaged but given the lack of recycling in the area, that was only mildly surprising. Kids, no matter where they were from, were really into it.”
And maybe, just maybe, Orr and the Green Team planted some important Green-Sports seeds that will bear fruit in Tampa, hopefully sooner rather than later.
“Sam Carr and Katie Kicklighter, from the Tampa Sports Commission, were both super positive,” Orr said. “Tampa will host the Super Bowl LV in 2021 and we talked about the possibility of working together then. And Jeff Rossi, head of the New Orleans Sports Commission — the 2020 Women’s Final Four will take place there — was very impressed and is interested in looking into having a Green Team.”