By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Bedouin Shrine Classic’s 35th year will be decidedly different than the 34th.
Officials from Hilldale and Checotah have informed tournament officials that their schools won’t be back, ending what is in both cases a two-decades relationship.
Both cited the struggle to compete as Class 4A schools against 6A competition as the primary reason for the move.
“We all know what good things the Shrine does. This isn’t entered into easy but at the same time, it’s become difficult to give our kids a chance to compete in the bracket we’re in,” said Hilldale athletics director Eric Puckett, who said he notified the Shrine on Wednesday of the school’s decision.
Puckett said Hilldale will not fill that tournament void and will instead get a home-and-home with Checotah. The Wildcats and Lady Wildcats have also been long active participants, even coordinating penny drives at school to add to the cause.
“We’re going to continue to do that and honestly, we want to remain supportive of everything the Shrine does but we have to look out for our kids too,” said Checotah athletic director Brian Terry. “We know every year it’s going to be us against Muskogee, Broken Arrow or Jenks right off the bat and that’s an automatic push to the consolation bracket.
“It’s a great cause and it’s convenient to home and honestly, what I hope for is some kind of 3A-4A or 2A-3A-4A bracket in the coming years.”
Keith Olmstead, the tournament’s director, admitted to having mixed feelings. But for now his task is to fill those four holes.
“You hate losing teams that have been in this almost since the start, and at the same time we understand their position and thank them for the years they’ve been here. We’ll move on and we’ll wish them both good luck.”
Muskogee and Mc-Alester boys and girls will return as well as Jenks and Sequoyah boys and Coweta girls. Jenks girls, Sequoyah girls and Tulsa Memorial boys, the latter currently coached by former Muskogee assistant Bobby Allison, are new commitments to compete in the large school bracket for 2015. Sequoyah’s girls have been in the small school bracket the past couple years.
“We may still find some willing 4A teams but our priority is to find teams that will put more people in the seats,” Olmstead said.
Hilldale has indicated a willingness to continue to allow the tournament to use its facility for seventh-place games on Saturday.
“We haven’t determined what we’ll do there yet, but we’ll consider it,” Olmstead said.