By Mike Deak
NORTH WEBSTER – Saturday’s Tournament of Champions wound up being the final day atop the Palace for Mitch Willaman.
The longtime director of the annual scholarship event announced his resignation from the position late Sunday night, bringing to an end nearly two decades of leadership in the position.
Willaman, along with his wife, Gretchen, and two children, Brett and Cali, have guided the Shoop Sports & Youth Foundation scholarship athletic event going back to the mid-2000s. Willaman, who himself has been part of the Foundation for 37 years, made the announcement after completing the 2021 tournament over the weekend.
In a statement, Willaman in part announced, “I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to lead the Tournament of Champions! It has truly been a highlight in my life, as well as in the lives of my wife, son, and daughter. It became a big part of our lives from March through June each year, and I am thankful that we got to share the experience together.
“To be able to work for so many great people has been a privilege as well. When I first started, Joan Rhodes, long-time member of the Shoop Board, took me under her wing and guided me every step of the way to make sure I was informed and prepared, offering whatever help I needed to get the job done. Rhodes always had time for me. She was always caring and kind, always! She taught me a lot, way beyond the duties of TOC Director. I am so thankful for Rhodes, as well as other board members I was able to work with through many tournaments who willingly helped in any way they could. Thank you to each of you!”
The Shoop Sports & Youth Foundation, which also has operated as the Palace of Sports Foundation, has enjoyed over five decades of success in providing college scholarships to prospective and current college students through the athletic competition. A 10-event format for young men and women to compete, the TOC has evolved over the years, and more recently under Willaman, to host a consistent lineup of events that include a mile run, three-point shootout, 40-yard dash and the vaunted obstacle course among other events.
Scholarships in 2021 were awarded in increments of $2,000 for first place, $1,500 for second, $1,000 for third and $500 for fourth to both males and females, totaling $10,000 all told to eight individuals.
An immediate announcement for his successor was not confirmed via the Foundation board, but the event should be in good hands going forward.
Added Willaman, “Now, the time has come to pass the torch on to the next Tournament of Champions Director, someone who will come in bringing fresh leadership, fresh ideas, and fresh energy to enhance what is already an amazing scholarship opportunity for future young women and men under the banner of the Shoop Sports & Youth Foundation…an extraordinary foundation led by extraordinary people doing extraordinary things!
“With all that being said, I now respectfully submit my resignation as Tournament of Champions Director. What a thrill it has been! Thank you so much for placing your trust in me, and for supporting every aspect of the tournament to help countless young people realize their goals and dreams! I know the next director will receive that same support.”