WHEELING, W.Va. — Nicknamed “The Friendly City”, Wheeling is welcoming all basketball teams and fans of the Mountain East Conference this week and making sure it continues its a friendly atmosphere.
For the first time the city is hosting the Division II conference’s men’s and women’s tournament starting Wednesday and lasting through Sunday at WesBanco Arena in downtown.
Frank O’Brien, Executive Director of the Wheeling/Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau said the area could not be more excited for the event being in town.
“We’ve done everything we can to roll out the red carpet for the MEC,” he said. “We think it is going to be a fantastic tournament and great entertainment for sports. We actually think it is going to have a strong economic impact for our community as well.”
O’Brien said that welcoming includes banners for the tournament flying throughout the city and extended welcomes to teams at the different properties where they are staying. He said there are a number of shops and restaurants in Wheeling and Ohio County that are welcoming the MEC as well, with signs and special discounts.
Wheeling and the MEC signed a 2-year contract with a third-year option for the basketball tournament, as it will be the first time Charleston has not hosted the event since the conference was created in 2012. The conference features nine institutions from West Virginia including two in Ohio County, Wheeling Jesuit University and West Liberty University.
“Any time you can bring several thousand people to your community following local college teams or even out of town that is a great thing for the economy,” O’Brien said. “We are absolutely convinced that having West Liberty and Wheeling Jesuit as two of the local representatives should increase the fan base. I think people are going to come from far and wide. I hope that everybody comes to enjoy these games.”
The tournament starts Wednesday with the first-round action in both women’s and men’s hoops. Fairmont State and West Virginia Wesleyan women tip off at Noon to get the tournament underway at a newly remodeled downtown arena. O’Brien said the multi-million dollar improvements to the facility will be noticed by the conference.
“Every seat is brand new,” he said. “The front lobby area and ticketing booth is multi-level, has tremendously high ceilings with a glass enclosure and a skywalk deck. It is pretty impressive.
“I think the teams coming from outside of the area are really going to get a kick out of this venue. It’s first class and definitely at the level of what we hope to be is a great tournament.”
Other institutions vying for the conference’s automatic bid into the DII national tournament include Shepherd, West Virginia State, UVA-Wise, Charleston, Concord, Glenville State, and Notre Dame (Ohio). O’Brien said visiting teams and fans should explore Wheeling because it is a great destination for not only basketball.
“If you’re interested in finding out where the state of West Virginia was created, it happened in Wheeling,” he said. “Check out our historic architecture just on Main Street and the cool restaurants. Places like Vagabond Kitchen and Later Gator. It’s a unique cuisine that you only find in Wheeling.”
WesBanco Arena just hosted a national high school basketball tournament in January, the Cancer Research Classic. The tournament hosted top high school basketball teams from around the country. The city has also hosted the Super Six state high school football championships for 25 years.
There is a reason why Wheeling hosts many large events, according to O’Brien.
“We have a great corporate community and volunteer network here of people who all work together for the betterment of the community,” he said. “It is these partnerships, both corporate and private that make something like this happen.”
Listen and watch the entire Mountain East Basketball Tournament on the MetroNews Channel.