, Muskogee, OK

December 16, 2012

Bedouin Shrine tournament needs infusion of energetic support

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— It’s hard to not think of suffering families and children on this weekend of weekends.

The unspeakable deaths of 26 people in an elementary school, 20 of which were apparently kindergartners, is too heavy to speak of but thanks to evil personified on Friday, it has been spoken into history.

It makes, to me, what the Shriners do for suffering kids and their families mean that much more. And today more than ever, we need to see the infusion of hope in a kid recovering from horrific burns or birth defects, of help that comes from people like those who have run the Bedouin Shrine Classic basketball tournament for three-plus decades and who drive them and their families across the country for necessary treatments.

When called, they continue to do it.

In some way, that will continue.

I’m just not sure how long this tournament will fuel the vans like they should.

This year, just like in every year that I’ve been here dating back to 2001, 32 teams will compete when the tournament tips off Jan. 7. The question is, how many people will walk up to buy a ticket.

First, they need fans of schools involved to show up in force. Second, they need plain ol’ fans, regardless of the school ties, to step up.

There should be enough of both to suffice.

But crowds have waned in recent years. There are many reasons for that.

One, to me, is the limited number of area teams taking part.

Jenks, Tulsa Hale, Tulsa Webster, McAlester, Enid, Graham, Spiro and Santa Fe Charter in Oklahoma City and Summit Christian in Broken Arrow will fill will fill 15 spots. Those schools will drive 1-2 hours to play.

Good for them. Guys and gals, you’re doing it for a good cause, but you already knew that.

I’m just not so sure how many will bring a significant number of fans.

Since 2001, I’ve seen Tahlequah, Wagoner, Warner and Gore come and go. Others too. Some of these schools have ventured out on their own, showing off their new facilities and also just trying to survive within the constraints of their own athletic program. Increasingly, tournaments are becoming fundraisers for programs to pay their bills and with more tournaments come more options for other schools.

But the Shriners have bills too, and I have some ideas that will help pay those bills – more specifically the bills that benefit the kids.

Tahlequah for one is needed for a large school bracket that has more 4A and 3A teams (Hilldale, Webster, Checotah, Sequoyah) than 6A (Jenks, Muskogee). Tahlequah isn’t 6A — it’s 5A like  McAlester and Hale.

But the energy created in the United Keetowah Band -Tahlequah Tiger Invitational last weekend, when Muskogee and Tahlequah met in the girls final, tells me that a regular meeting or two, or maybe even three (home-and-home regular season, Tahlequah’s tournament and the Shrine event) would help regenerate what once was a natural rivalry in all sports, now more or less restricted to slowpitch softball.

Hilldale, for all of its on-court struggles, has put together decent crowds at times. Checotah not only supports it in person, they’ve had an annual penny drive for years to supplement it as a school project. Sequoyah’s crowds have declined only as the program has come down from its one-time state regular status.

But they’re all within 3-point range of the Civic Center court..

Jenks replaced Broken Arrow on the boys side, but neither send their girls teams. And the crowds? They’re not that great. Some of the prominent basketball schools now head out-of-state for tournament action.

The options have indeed dwindled.

Which might require a different sales pitch, perhaps, to turn some of those heads back.

It’s long been one of Muskogee’s jewels in terms of sporting events. It does not need to wane, or morph into a golf scramble that would certainly be easier to manage with less volunteers among its membership needed to run it.

Just a little shot of momentum, and maybe, a little community attention may be all that’s needed.

Oh, and a revived rivalry or two.

Warner, how about Oktaha?

Wagoner, how about Hilldale, or maybe a new old friend, Fort Gibson?

The needs of unfortunate children need you.

It may be the Shriners’ duty, but it’s our community’s event and on occasion, it might be one of your own who gets a ride to a hospital.