By Hector Longo
---- — Verbally badgered on an almost nightly basis, there is no more resilient creature than the high school basketball official.
As a group, the members of IAABO (officials) Board 130 decided in the past few years that they wanted to show the community that there was more to them than just their thick skin.
“I think we figured we’re right here in the heart of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore, why not provide the community a service,” said Rich Napolitano, an Andover native who has helped spearhead the endeavor.
So in February of 2010, they came up with the IAABO Board 130 Classic, a high school hoop tourney played at the highest levels, but focused on giving back to those who make the games special … the athletes themselves.
“You look around and other officiating boards run there own tournaments, and we as a group just figured it was our time,” said Napolitano.
In just its third year, the event has grown exponentially.
In a testament to the strength of the tourney, the last three Division 1 state champs (Springfield Central, St. John’s Prep and the host Raiders), along with 2009 state runner-up Lynn English, will compete
The tourney will begin Sunday at the Memorial Gym on the Central Catholic campus.
“Most importantly, in two years, we’ve handed out $6,000 in scholarship money to athletes from all the participating teams,” said Napolitano.
The key to the event has been the fan support, and that’s something Napolitano and diligent board members like Paul Halloran and Hal Geary set out to do when this event was first thought up.
“It’s no secret, Central was going to be a major draw, and that’s how it worked out,” said Napolitano. “Adding quality teams like the Prep, and with high-powered programs like Pentucket on the girls side, we knew that things would work out for the best.”
Things have been so strong over the first two years that through raffles, sponsorships and other donations, Board 130 was able to make a substantial donation to the Officials vs. Cancer charity last year. That gift hit home for Napolitano.
“This tournament is not about making money for the board, it’s about community service,” said Napolitano.
His son, Nicholas, 11, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma almost two years ago. Thankfully, through treatment, he is again cancer free.
“Most importantly, we were looking to create a high quality event for people to come out and enjoy,” said Napolitano. “And for the most part, we’ve done that. The crowds have been great. Sponsors have been very supportive.”
And because of it, the Merrimack Valley has a February must-see event on the annual sports calendar.
IAABO Board 130 Basketball Classic
All Games at Central Catholic High School
Pentucket (18-1) vs. Newton South (8-6), 2 p.m.
Auburn (13-2) vs. Central Catholic (14-4), 3:45 p.m.
Lynn English (17-2) vs. Springfield Central (12-2), 5:30 p.m.
St. John’s Prep (16-1) vs. Central Catholic (15-3)
2:00 pm - Girls Consolation
3:45 pm - Boys Consolation
5:30 pm - Girls Championship
7:15 pm - Boys Championship