APPLETON, Wis. — The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III Baseball Championship will end its spectacular two-decade run in the Fox Cities following the 2018 tournament, hosts of the event announced on Thursday (Oct. 20).
A change in scheduling by the NCAA and the unavailability of a host facility starting with the 2019 championship has forced the partnership of Lawrence University, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau to bow out as hosts and prevent the three entities from bidding for future hosting opportunities.
"The Division III baseball championship will undergo a major structural change in 2019 and mirror a format that is currently used at the Division I and II levels of baseball and all levels of softball," said UW-Oshkosh Sports Information Director Kennan Timm, co-chair of the event's local organizing committee.
The championship, which currently runs over a five- to six-day period that begins the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, is being pushed back one week into June to accommodate another round of games (Super Regionals).
"The alteration," Timm said, "prohibits the use of Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium for the eight-team finals as the tournament's schedule is not compatible with the Timber Rattlers' schedule and the facility's prior commitments."
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers President Rob Zerjav said hosting the NCAA Division III Championship into early and mid-June forces the Timber Rattlers to possibly be on the road for an extended period of time.
The Division III championship first came to Appleton in 2000 through the efforts of several people, including Timm, former UW-Oshkosh Director of Athletics Allen Ackerman, former UW-Oshkosh head baseball coach Tom Lechnir, Mike Birling of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Kevin Doyle of The Appleton Post-Crescent, Larry Trucco of the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel, and Jay Olson and Valerie Wylie of the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"Hosting the NCAA Division III Baseball Championships in the Fox Cities has been a tremendous honor," said Matt Ten Haken, Director of Sports Marketing for the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau and co-chair of the Local Organizing Committee. "This event has put our community on the map nationally as a baseball hotbed. We look forward to hosting two more great championships in 2017 and 2018 and then hosting other prestigious events in the years to come."
In what has been an outstanding partnership of public and private colleges, Lawrence University became a co-host of the championship in 2003, and the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau became another host partner in 2008.
The three hosts have combined to make this one of the finest championships in all of NCAA Division III. Beginning with the efforts of the local organizing committee, the event continually added new pieces to improve the experience for student-athletes and fans.
"Over our 17 years of hosting, we have helped shape this championship event," said Christyn Abaray, Lawrence University Director of Athletics and co-chair of the Local Organizing Committee. "We are extremely proud of our community – all of the organizations, companies and volunteers who make the championship as meaningful as it is. While a change of venue for the championship provides another great opportunity for Division III baseball, we are sad to see the event leave the Fox Cities."
With support coming from local sponsors, including the J. J. Keller Foundation, Bergstrom Corporation, Radisson Paper Valley Hotel, Panther Baseball and The Appleton Post-Crescent, praise for the experience in Appleton is a common yearly occurrence.
Included in that experience is the use of the superlative practice facility at Appleton Legion Post 38 with legendary baseball man Don Hawkins interacting with visiting teams and grooming the field named in his honor.
The efforts of numerous local committee members, both former and present, have also made the event grow in prestige and popularity. The considerable contributions of former Local Organizing Committee chairs Gary Kilgas and Mike Szkodzinski; team hosts Dean Moede, Kathy Sagehorn and Mark Shropshire; Korey Krueger of Panther Baseball; Nancy Hollis and Jay Schumerth of the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel; Zerjav and Aaron Hahn of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers enhanced the championship tremendously.
All of these factors have made the phrase "The Road to Appleton" part of the Division III baseball lexicon.
"We have thoroughly enjoyed our relationship with the NCAA as host of the Division III Baseball Championship since 2000," Abaray said. "It is a productive partnership in which we've been able to provide a quality and memorable experience for the participating student-athletes, coaches and patrons, all while showcasing what the Fox Cities have to offer."
Appleton is the fifth location to host the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship, and its 19-year run is by far the longest. Marietta, Ohio, hosted the first 10 championships, followed by Bristol, Conn. (two years) and Battle Creek, Mich., and Salem, Va., hosted for five years apiece. The 19-year run will be the fourth-longest tenure of an NCAA championship at one site. The Division I Baseball Championship has been in Omaha, Neb., since 1950, the Division I Softball Championship has been contested in Oklahoma City, Okla., since 1990 and the Division III football championship game (the Stagg Bowl) has been in Salem, Va., since 1993.
Fox Cities Stadium has seen the most well-attended game and finals in Division III baseball history. In 2003, the finals record of 29,543 and single-game mark of 3,868 (UW-Oshkosh vs. Chapman University) were set. Over the past 17 championships held in Appleton, 55 different schools have made an appearance at Fox Cities Stadium. The most frequent visitor is the State University of New York at Cortland, which has played in Appleton 10 times and won the title in 2015. Marietta College has won the most titles in Appleton by taking the crown three times (2006, 2011, 2012).
"We are all proud of what we have accomplished the past 17 years and look forward to embracing the championship with great enthusiasm in 2017 and 2018," Timm said. "Our goal has always been to provide an extremely positive championship experience, an ever-lasting memory, and a favorable impression of the Fox Valley and the state of Wisconsin to our visitors."