MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 14, 2013

It's a wrap for Shriners and possibly some leaders

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— A final wrap on the 33rd Bedouin Shrine Classic basketball tournament which ended Saturday night with four new champions — Spiro boys and girls and Muskogee girls and Jenks boys:

The Classic’s leadership could see a change in leadership. But that change started a year ago with Jim Bushnell stepping back, then the recent death of Jim Eskew. Both were last assistant directors. Now, at least it appears this way, Leonard Branan, the tournament’s chief director, is planning to retire, and with him, Lucky Tarkington might also go.

Those “four horsemen” have been at the core of the tournament’s existence since its inception, Branan that year was a scorekeeper and as he recalled Saturday, it was that experience that piqued his interest in becoming a Mason and subsequently, a Shriner. He and Tarkington, the former Muskogee girls coach, joined together.

With Bushnell in the background, it was different. And if both Branan and Tarkington step back, it will really be different.  Keith Olmstead, one of the nine assistant directors, is in line to take hold of the leadership.

Still, it’s just me, but I don’t see the three remaining horsemen all drifting too far away.  Then again, I had Seattle advancing to the Super Bowl before Sunday.

Whoever takes hold and however the overall board of directors looks, the tournament, at 32 teams one of the state’s largest, faces some challenges to add punch — and turnstile count — both with the large school division and in spots within the small school groupings. At one 4:30 p.m. tipoff during the week, 36 people were counted in the stands, 38 (which were mostly participants and Shriners) on the floor.

Dropping the 4A schools to the Small School level could make what is typically a competitive group even more so.  To do that, the rules would have to be changed but the other part of that problem is finding some 5A and 6A schools to replace them. Schools like Hilldale and Checotah, both very much a part of the tournament’s history, is often overmatched against 6A talent — even though, and salute to the Hilldale Lady Hornets for an impressive third place finish.

One thing is for sure, the event is way too purposeful not to have the best product out there. Some area schools need to come back around. But some format might be good, and the schools need to be mindful of that too. Three games for this cause is worth any inconvenience or sacrifice...

Just as inspiring as the Shrine Classic poster children, Mia Barnes and Sejin Whittle was at least for Muskogee’s teams, one Dustin Givens, the father of Roughers sophomore Aaron Givens and cousin of Lady Roughers Doyle Rowland, who personally dedicated the girls fourth consecutive championship to him. Givens, who played at MHS and graduated in 1991, died last week...

Yeah, I was perplexed at the absence of players from Small School Boys champion Spiro on the all-tournament team. Having seen some eye-opening results in an occasional All-Phoenix outcome, I know it happens. But how about a mandatory entry from a championship team?

But overall, another yeoman’s effort.