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Column: Christmas Tournament about more than final scoresPosted Saturday, January 5, 2013, at 9:36 PM
In some ways high school basketball is always about more than what is happening on the court.
The officials of the Missouri State High School Activities Association like to remind us all prep sports are about sportsmanship and teamwork. I like to think they're about learning to achieve goals through discipline and accountability to yourself and others.
But the results matter, and I believe that people who learn to win learn something that can't be taught in a classroom.
Of course, not every person or team can win all the time, so it's just as important to learn how to deal with and respond to the losses.
It matters which teams win and which teams lose during the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament each year.
It matters that the Charleston Bluejays won a second consecutive title in impressive and dominating fashion.
It doesn't matter so much as, say, global warming or the safe return of a soldier from war or any of a million other things you or I could list, but it matters in the lives of the players and the people who love and support them.
That's part of what makes sports influential in our society.
But if you think the only thing that matters is the closeness, or lack of closeness, of the final scores at the tournament each year, you are sadly missing the point, and I often hear from those people. Some even border on outraged that each game of the tournament isn't a back-and-forth battle for the ages.
Some years we are treated with buzzer beaters and showdowns between state powers. Other years we get a string of blowouts interrupted by the occasional competitive contest.
But every year we get to be part of a wonderful Southeast Missouri social event that allows local high school athletes a chance to play on a stage bigger than almost all will play on in their lives.
Each year I get told during the Day 1, and sometimes Day 2, blowouts that I should feel sorry for the players from schools getting badly beaten or, worse, that the experience is embarrassing for the players.
Each year I tell those people that they are wrong.
I can't speak for every player who has ever stepped onto the Show Me Center court, but I have spoken to quite a few of them throughout my years as a spectator and a reporter.
I've never spoken to a player who didn't like being a part of the experience, no matter the outcome. I congratulate you if you can find an exception, but it will be just that -- an exception.
There are lots of others notions that go around that aren't backed up by reason or logic. One is that schools like Bell City, which got pummeled in its two tournament games this year, should be "kicked out" in order to make room for a more competitive team. Nevermind that the Cubs won the tournament in 2006, making their most recent championship 10 years newer than Central's.
There are also those who believe that small schools and big school should be split up, as if Class 1 Scott County Central wasn't just running teams out of the gym for three consecutive championships or games like Class 1 Leopold's win over Class 1 Oak Ridge or Class 5 Jackson's win over Class 4 Notre Dame never end in blowouts. They did this year. And they do all the time in other tournaments where schools with similar enrollments match up.
There is, of course, the business side of things to consider. Some think attendance would go up if bigger and better schools were invited. Since Sikeston is pretty much the only local school anyone can name that meets that definition on a regular basis, it doesn't take long for someone to bring up inviting schools from other states.
Imagine adding Sikeston to this year's field. We might have ended up with a closer final, but little else would have changed. And there is no evidence that big schools from other states would bring thousands of fans to the Show Me Center the way the tournament does each year.
In fact, the evidence -- including the light attendance at the Pepsi Shootout hosted by the Show Me Center in 2009 -- supports the opposite. Even big regular-season games between Notre Dame and Central held at the Show Me Center each year draw a fraction of the fans that come to see those same teams play at the Christmas tournament.
Not that any of this really matters. As far as I can tell, the schools' administrators who decide which teams play in the tournament each year have no desire to make changes and no reason to want to. After all, the money made is split by the 16 schools.
So, no, the Cinderella run I thought might happen this year never materialized, and the clock seemed to run in the fourth quarter more than it didn't.
If you choose to focus on that and only that, I understand I'm powerless to open your eyes to what makes the event special.
But if you're willing to listen, I'll tell you about the pride in Woodland coach Ryan Garnett's voice when he talked about his team's goal of earning respect -- after a 28-point loss to Scott City on Day 3.
Garnett's Cardinals had done something no Woodland team had a done in a decade when they won a day earlier on the Show Me Center floor.
Garnett made it clear that his team still was working toward gaining respect, but, in the glow of the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament lights, a 55-45 win over Kelly meant more than it would any other day.
I'll tell you about watching Leopold senior Kyle Stroder -- a player I don't think I've ever seen show emotion on the court -- fist pump and clench his jaw in resolution as he tried to bring his team back against Notre Dame, a team he won't get to face outside of the tournament, on Day 2.
I'll tell you about the magic of watching the Oran and Advance rivalry played out on a stage worthy of the effort seniors like Oran's Alex Heuring and Advance's Ethan Barr put into every fight for position under the basket.
I'll tell you how I talked to dozens of people in a span of four days that I often go months without seeing -- some I hadn't seen since last year's tournament.
I'll tell you that what makes the tournament special for those of us who love it isn't always what happens on the court.
Rachel Crader is the editor of semoball.com.
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Rachel Crader is the editor of semoball.com. She graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in May of 2009 before spending the summer covering the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
Highlights from Rachel's days in college include having a class down the hall from Chase Daniel and having NCAA wrestling champion Ben Askren hold the door open for her at Brady Commons, Mizzou's student center. She spent time covering Mizzou basketball, softball and baseball while working for the Columbia Missourian and is excited to return home to Southeast Missouri to cover local sports for semoball.com.
Rachel has covered three Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournaments for the Southeast Missourian and semoball.com, and she'll see you courtside again this year.
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