By Michael Muldoon
---- — A newly-formed Greater Lawrence Christmas Basketball Tourney committee has adopted a series of sweeping changes.
First, make that Commonwealth Motors Christmas Classic Tourney committee. The 39th annual boys tourney and the 26th annual girls tourney have been renamed after new sponsor Commonwealth Motors of Lawrence.
The other changes include:
Moving the tournaments to Merrimack College, where the boys tourney became famous
Dividing the tourneys into an A and a B division
Seeding the teams
Giving out $16,000 in scholarships from Commonwealth Motors — $1,000 to a deserving senior on each of the 16 boys and girls teams
The four boys and girls championship games will be played on the same day at Merrimack
A Twitter feed and a Facebook page will be important new social media tools
The return of a special banquet, which Terry Holland of Stachey’s is catering free of charge. It will be at Relief’s In in Lawrence on Dec. 9.
The Greater Lawrence boys and Lowell girls left the tourneys and will be replaced by the Whittier boys and Westford girls.
The new committee believes the new energy and Commonwealth Motors’ generosity could bring a return to the glory years, when the boys tourney was frequently called the best tourney of its kind in New England.
“I’ve been involved with this since 1983 as a player and this is my 25th year as a coach,” said Andover High boys coach Dave Fazio. “Sometimes change is good. I think it’s great that it’s back at Merrimack. The fans are on top of you. No disrespect to Lawrence High (the host since 2007), which is beautiful, but the fans are so far away. You lose that energy.”
Energy is a word that’s been used a lot with the boys tourney, which many local basketball fans feel has lot a bit of its luster in recent years.
That’s one of the reasons the committee was formed. Rich Napolitano, the boys tourney referee supervisor the last few years, is the chairman. He and North Andover Fall Ball League president Rick Gorman were on the ground floor trying to form a committee and make some needed changes.
Gorman coined the phrase “Change with Respect to the Past” and that’s been the committee’s mantra.
The committee also includes Fazio, Central Catholic girls coach Sue Downer, Lawrence girls coach Dan Blouin, Brooks boys coach John McVeigh and North Andover High athletic director Jon Longley.
The committee unanimously elected Napolitano as chairman. The lack of a true leader of the tourney, like former chairmen John Kelleher and Bob Licare Sr., is often mentioned why perhaps the boys tourney has slipped a bit in terms of prestige and attendance.
Napolitano has spent much of his professional career in fund-raising roles. He has run one of the state’s most successful basketball tourneys, the IAABO Board 130 Classic, which the last few years was at Central Catholic.
“It’s about bringing that ‘specialness’ back,” said Napolitano. “Merrimack brings back a lot of energy. That will be special for the kids. And this is about the kids.”
Fazio was a major proponent to return to seeding the teams so hopefully the finals will be the marquee matchup.
“I think all tourneys should be seeded,” said the Andover coach. “Last year, we played North Andover in the first round and Central Catholic in the semis.”
Those were the three top teams in the tourney knocking each other off before the finals.
Fazio said when that happens, “The tourney loses its luster. You want to build up steam.”
The addition of the tourneys’ first-ever major sponsor was greeted with jubilation. Commonwealth Motors for decades has been one of the area’s leading sponsors of high school sports.
“Charlie Daher cares about student-athletes,” said Fazio. “For him to give each team a $1,000 scholarship speaks volumes about the type of guy he is. It’s amazing.”
The scholarships had dried up in recent years.
Daher, the president and owner of Commonwealth Motors, said, “We always like to be involved with the community. It’s a great opportunity. We know what it means to the community. It’s great to be able to help deserving kids.”
The family has always been heavily involved in sports.
“Sports have meant a lot to me,” said Daher, who played football at Central Catholic. “High school sports, those memories stay with you for a lifetime. My kids feel the same way. That’s why we are all on board with the sponsorship.”
Daher’s son, Charles, a Commonwealth Motors executive, was an Eagle-Tribune All-Star lineman for Andover High in 1998.
Charles said, “We want to help bring the tourney back to where it was. We want to get it back even better.”
For the last several years, the boys and girls tourneys have been loosely linked. Now there will be a more formal relationship.
The girls see that as a major plus, for scholarships, publicity and attendance.
The tourneys will be at the same site. The girls tourney had always been at revolving sites hosted by one of the participating teams.
The girls also will have the Commonwealth Motors scholarship winners.
Championship Saturday will feature the two girls championship games and the two boys championship games.
The A division girls title game will be directly before the boys A game.
The hope is that it will provide a big boost for the girls’ tourney attendance.
Fazio, whose daughter Ally helped Andover win three straight Division 1 state titles, is intrigued by the new Championship Saturday format.
“I would have loved it when Ally was playing,” said Fazio.
“That would have been amazing. Being the father of two daughters, you are always hoping they can have a great crowd. This will help the girls get the crowds.”
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.
B2013 Commonwealth Motors Christmas Classic
Saturday, Dec. 21 (Boys)
2 p.m.: Whittier vs. Methuen; 3:45 p.m.: Pinkerton vs. Central Catholic; 5:30 p.m.: North Andover vs. Salem; 7:15 p.m.: Andover vs. Lawrence
Monday, Dec. 23 (Girls)
2 p.m.: Lawrence vs. Methuen; 3:45 p.m.: Salem vs. Andover; 5:30 p.m.: North Andover vs. Westford; 7:15 p.m.: Pinkerton vs. Central Catholic
Friday, Dec. 27 (Consolations)
2 p.m.: Girls B; 3:45 p.m.: Boys B; 5:30 p.m.: Girls A; 7:15 p.m.: Boys A
Saturday, Dec. 28
1:45 p.m.: Girls B; 3:30 p.m.; Boys B; 6 p.m.: Girls A; 8 p.m.: Boys A