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DANVILLE — “It’s HUGE, all capital letters.”

That’s how Dori Stone, manager of Sleep Inn & Suites, Danville, describes the return of the NJCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship to the community.

“We’re so excited that it’s back,” Stone said. “It’s a little limited this year (due to COVID-19 restrictions), but the teams are playing. We’re loving it.”

Stone, whose establishment is housing five of the 16 tournament teams, said there were times during the pandemic she wondered why her hotel was even open.

“There were days when we might fill four rooms. It was devastating,” she said.

“Happy days are here again” might be the refrain in Danville these days.

Jeanie Cooke, director of the Danville Area Visitors Bureau, has been on the tournament organizing committee since its inception 27 years ago. She’s glad to see the hoopla return.

“I can’t leave my home or my office without people being so excited,” she said. “Life will be a little more normal.

“It’s such a shot in the arm right now to the hospitality industry — our hotels, our restaurants, our events and our income from shopping in the community.”

Cooke said more than anything else, the tournament, which was not held last year, lets people know things are getting closer to prepandemic days.

It’s enough to make people sing. That’s what Nicole Van Hyfte of Hoopeston will be doing. She will be singing the national anthem Wednesday morning to start the day’s tournament action.

“I’ve done it before” at the tournament. “I usually sing at Danville Dans and Dashers games. Music is a big part of my life,” Van Hyfte said.

She said being able to sing again is “really exciting.”

“The tournament is kind of a big deal for Vermilion County. It brings a lot of business to the community, and being able to kick off a day of basketball” is special.

Tim Dudley, president/CEO of Vermilion Advantage, said people “all over” are talking about the tournament.

“I think it’s going to be a great event. Everybody has been cooped up with COVID. It’s nice to get together with other folks. I think people are ready to get out and do something.”

Terry French, golf coach at Danville Area Community College, is one of the hosts for the 16 teams that will compete. He and Curt Ellis will co-host the Richland, Texas, team that will vie for the title.

“It’s something fun to do,” French said. “You get to see a lot of good basketball.”

As hosts, French and Ellis will alternate. If one is not available, the other will do the hosting. They will do everything from making meal reservations, to serving as manager during the games if the team doesn’t have one, to taking the team to the local Walmart. The hosts will also line up gyms where teams can practice.

“In a COVID year, it’s a little more difficult,” French said.

Normally he would let them know what entertainment opportunities are available — from bowling to movies.

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