EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 2, 2013

Time for ADs to give up Christmas tourneys

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — It’s time.

The Greater Lawrence Boys Christmas Tournament needs an injection of life and a new direction. In other words, it’s time for the participating athletic directors to give up their leadership to one of the best local events of the year.

It’s simply too much work, running this popular event. Case in point: A few weeks ago, I emailed an athletic director about hosting a preseason basketball jamboree (like the successful one at Lynn Classical) with the hope of raising a few thousand dollars for The Eagle-Tribune Santa Fund. The response was — and I’m paraphrasing here — “Are you kidding me? ... Thanks, but no thanks!”

I liken the boys tournament to The Feaster Five Road Race in that it draws all walks of life. The difference is that The Feaster Five became too big for the Merrimack Valley Striders to run so they brought in the pro of pros to direct it, Dave McGillivray. And the rest is history (see 10,000 entries).

There are people in this region who both love basketball and this event — North Andover Youth Services head Rick Gorman comes quickly to mind — that could be this tournament’s much needed leader.

The two best boys games of the tournament were played in the quarterfinals (North Andover vs. Andover) and semifinals (Central Catholic vs. Andover). Both were incredible games. That’s wrong.

The best games should be the semifinals and finals, which should be a sellout.

Big events are supposed to build excitement, not wane it. The championship game was never a game. Lawrence isn’t in Central’s class just yet.

The fact that the matchups are picked out of a hat, literally, is amateurish.

Let the participating coaches seed the tournament and schedule the games accordingly. I would expect the semifinal games would be competitive and worth watching. And the championship would be a true championship, with a standing-room-only sellout crowd watching.

There was no such feeling at the Central-Lawrence High finale.

Heck, the third-place game would probably have more meaning, too.

The original thought to “picking out of a hat” was to “protect” the lower end teams from getting trounced “every” year by Central and Andover. But after watching some of the consolation games, those same teams were trounced by other “lesser” consolation teams.

I wonder if a participating team or two doesn’t consider this event as highly as a lot of us do. If that’s the case, there are a few more than willing participants to fill their spots.

A true tournament director and board of directors could also create other events like a 3-point shooting contest, a dunk contest, or one student from each school trying a half-court shot for a lifetime supply of pizza. Basically, let’s have some fun with 2,500 people at the gym.

It was also interesting to see coaches from all of the teams wearing impressive golf shirts with their school colors. But my first thought was: What are the boys getting? I’m guessing, nothing.

The concessions could be better too, particularly those who want to stay for three or four games (consolation games, included). A cold slice of pizza and popcorn don’t cut it. I’m convinced Lawrence High athletics would triple its concessions’ revenue with better food served in the cafeteria, with shorter lines.

The girls version of the tournament is a different animal altogether. It, too, deserves to have its own director/organizer.

The original concept was to copy the boys tournament, with similar schools (for the most part) and format. But unfortunately, it hasn’t ever caught on.

The girls tourney would probably be better suited as a smaller, four-team tournament, possibly inviting a state power from the south of Boston. Copying the boys tournament hasn’t worked. In fact, it seems to get lost competing with the boys version.

It’s too bad. The final between North Andover and Central deserved 1,500-plus fans.

There are sponsorship opportunities available for the boys and girls tournaments. How about a first-class game program with team pictures and stats that sells ads, helping raise more revenue?

The tournament needs a true director/point person and a committee. A participating AD should be on the committee to represent the needs and interests of the participating schools.

It’s time to make the Gr. Lawrence Christmas Tournament an elite event again. It’s time for the ADs to hand this off to those people who could and would make it happen.

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.