COLUMN: Ice came, so Shriners shouldn't feel too bad
January 13, 2007
By Mike Kays
If there’s any consolation to the pain area Shriners were feeling Friday, what they awoke to on Saturday should have served as salve to an extent.
For the first time in 27 years, the Bedouin Shrine Classic high school basketball tournament fell short of completion when schools began pulling out due to the onset of this weekend’s winter ice storm. It first hit the area north of Muskogee County on Friday, sending students from Tulsa and Broken Arrow home. Sitting in an office at the Muskogee Civic Assembly Center, though, tournament director Leonard Branan was looking outside at, well, dry streets.
I can relate to how Branan feels.
For several years, I ran a benefit softball tournament involving about 40 teams and a Denton, Texas, children’s home that was its beneficiary. You figure that fate or the Man Upstairs would help you keep a good thing going without fail. But on the tournament’s 13th year, the skies opened up. We worked opening day to dry the fields, then as we tried to resume on Day 2, a forecast ultimately killed us.
At least for Branan and all the other Shriners who work so hard to put this event together, a peek outside the window on Saturday morning showed that Mother Nature and not the National Weather Service would, after all, have effectively ended the tournament.
Hey folks, it’s January. This figures to happen a lot more than my rainstorm in Texas in mid-August. However, it hasn’t in 27 Januarys, so any thought of moving the tournament to a November date as a sort of season tipoff event should be tempered with the reality that, even in January, using the law of averages, the current ice attack shouldn’t happen again but once until 2034.
So, let’s just regroup and go at it next year.
Word somehow got around to tournament officials on Friday that Broken Arrow officials were urging other schools to pull out. A check of that has turned up nothing more than conversations between schools, but no urging from anyone to pull out. Broken Arrow and Tulsa Central’s hands were forced by school rules when schools were dismissed.
Hopefully, schools like Broken Arrow and Tahlequah will return. There were reports of disgruntlement from the Tahlequah contingent about the officiating in Tuesday’s first-round game against Tulsa Central, as well as the bracket draw that saw the Tigers, arguably the third-best team in the bracket, positioned against a Central team that was considered the favorite. But hopefully, those feelings won’t last.
The bottom line is the Large School Bracket needs teams like these, not to mention Fort Gibson. All I’ve ever heard from various people is that Fort Gibson will never return to the tournament. I’m still on my soapbox for a Fort Gibson-Sequoyah girls matchup. The Shrine tournament would be the perfect place for it.
Right now, you have a Fort Gibson tournament that only Eufaula and Stigler goes to among area teams, and the Tigers and Lady Tigers avoid the Classic. With those scenarios, the sport is cheated and in the Shriners’ case, so are needy kids. So forget about bracket position and who you’re playing, guys. Try a benevolent spirit — and a few trade-offs on participation in the events.
A lot goes into the Classic. There’s more dedication from more people here than there is at the Whataburger Tournament down in Fort Worth, one that ranks among the prime prep tournaments in the country. Every year for the last decade or so, the folks in Texas bring in three nationally-touted teams. One year, it included Los Angeles Crenshaw. Another year, it had DeMatha from near Washington, D.C. Crowds didn’t follow those teams, the teams found crowds where they played.
When Muskogee was at the height of its basketball success, the crowds didn’t have to come far and seats weren’t hard to fill. The hometowners filled them. The last couple of years, Sequoyah has been the big ticket buyer. But Sequoyah, especially on the girls side, can’t find the competition to keep things interesting. And over the last few years, crowds that have followed their teams have been slower to grow, their alarms set to go off about time for the area round of the playoffs.
Sequoyah’s girls are already in the Oklahoma’s Best event. Chances are, with a plethora of national tournaments seeking high-caliber teams these days, whose to say the girls, with Angel Goodrich’s senior season a year from now, won’t go out of state next season given an opportunity? You can only participate in three tournaments next season, a third added but with a tradeoff of losing regular-season home games.
Maybe the Shriners can’t compete alongside the Tournament of Champions the week after Christmas — certainly their long list of volunteers might have an issue with disrupting holiday plans. Maybe, as some suggest to me, basketball just isn’t a strong enough draw at the high school level in Oklahoma to think too big. But somehow, some way, especially with a refurbished Civic Center project going on, there’s got to be a way to elevate what is already an event Muskogee can take pride in into an elite status among tournament basketball anywhere.