Long before attorney John Yates was chosen to lead this year's Final Four in Atlanta, he dreamed of March Madness from a desk in the back of his fourth-grade classroom.
Yates was listening to a Duke University game on a transistor radio when his teacher caught him and sent him to the principal's office. Luckily for him, the principal was also a Duke fan.
Today, the college hoops fan and Morris, Manning & Martin partner is readying Atlanta to host the culmination of the college basketball season: the two semifinal games on April 6, the national championship on April 8 and other festivities.
"It's the greatest job in the world for a basketball fan who's also a lawyer," Yates said.
As chairman of the Atlanta Basketball Host Committee, Yates is responsible for oversight of organization, compliance with the NCAA's contract and city regulations, and energizing the community around the event. He sees his role as being similar to the chairman of the board of a corporation.
Since he took the unpaid job about 2½ years ago, Yates has dedicated between five and 10 hours a week to planning, in addition to his work as the partner in charge of Morris Manning's technology practice.
He's also had to fend off an increasing number of fans who think he can get them tickets to the Georgia Dome.
"My phone has continued to ring more aggressively, and I suspect that the number of friends and would-be clients that I have will probably increase precipitously over the next couple of months too," Yates said.
His colleagues who are Duke fans tend to be particularly enthusiastic. Yates earned both his law and undergraduate degrees from Duke.
"They're hoping somehow they can be involved, and somehow tickets will fall out of my pocket," Yates said. "We'll do our best to help everybody we can find tickets and make them available."