NEW ORLEANS — A husky, a bear, a cardinal and a leprechaun took to a stage outside the New Orleans Arena on Sunday.
To the delight of a small but appreciative crowd of women’s basketball fans and curious tourists, four college mascots danced, cheered and competed in a series of menial tasks to determine their superiority. In the end, Oski, the bear representing the University of California, Berkeley, took home the bragging rights — and a check for $1,000 — with the help of his school’s eclectic pep band and his two “keepers.”
“It’s a big win for us,” said the keeper who called himself Funther.
Oski merely nodded.
Perhaps he was saving his energy for the real competition, Sunday night’s NCAA Women’s Final Four semifinal game between Cal and Louisville. It was to be followed by the semifinal between Notre Dame and the University of Connecticut. Those two games and Tuesday night’s championship were the real reason women’s basketball fans were in town this week.
But to help visitors get in the party mood, they were invited to visit Tourney Town, a free fan festival spread over 90,000 square feet of parking lot just outside the Arena. There, fans were offered a wide variety of activities to help them root for their favorite team and pass the time until tip-off.
After being welcomed with a pair of Tourney Town Mardi Gras beads, fans could have their photo taken with the championship trophy, shop for official merchandise, have their face painted in team colors, test their softball skills, get an autograph from former WBNA star Lisa Leslie or an assortment of visiting college coaches, or test their basketball skills on one of the many basketball courts surrounding the perimeter.
Fans also were offered live entertainment throughout the day, including concerts from recording artists Taio Cruz and Kay as well as Sunday’s AT&T Mascot Challenge. That was followed a short time later by the official game pep rally, at which all four bands performed with their respective cheerleaders and mascots.
“It’s been great,” said Christa Scannell, one of the event organizers. “The crowds have been great. The weather has been great. It’s just perfect.”
It was the perfect opportunity for the Lege family, who traveled from Erath to see the sights. Still giddy from meeting Leslie, one of her idols, Alexis Lege, 14, a youth basketball player back in her hometown, delighted in climbing a 6-foot ladder to pretend to cut down a net while her mother, Telisa, took photos.
“Someday I want to do that for real,” she said.
Tourney Town will be open again from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday, before the finals. Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys will perform at 5:30 p.m.
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