Holiday hoops events have a clear hierarchy

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By Mike Farner

    SHEPHERDSVILLE - What can you say about a tournament where you lose the first game of the event to the second ranked team in Kentucky to fall into the consolation bracket?
    Once you get there, you face two more teams ranked among the top five teams coming into the season by the state’s coaches.
    You just say ‘wow’ and walk away happy with a 2-2 record.
    That was exactly what Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr was saying when the Chargers completed play in the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic at Fairdale High School.
    “There were a lot of positives of playing here,” Barr said despite getting the first two losses of the season. “First and foremost, there is an incredible atmosphere here for the kids.
    “Next, you would be hard pressed to find a stronger 16-team tournament in the country,” the coach added. “This field was phenomenal. This is a lifetime memory for the kids they can tell their grandkids about when they are playing in it.”
    The high school holiday tournament scene has really divided into two distinct branches.
    First, there are the mega-events like the one at Fairdale where all the top teams tend to congregate and play each other. There is another of those events this week in Lexington. Teams go into those events with the idea of winning and gaining state-wide attention.
    Then there are the smaller, mid-level (or lower) events that make up the bulk of the holiday events. Many of the teams are out to win and organizers work to get teams that are basically on the same talent level.
    North Bullitt’s Sarah Major Barger Memorial Tournament is a perfect example. Eagle head coach Lee Barger had a competitive field. He wasn’t looking for a top-25 team. The teams get to play three or four games and can work to get better for the big district games and then the post-season that are on the horizon.
    While Bullitt East will get a check for playing in the King of the Bluegrass, nobody is making money at most of the tourneys. As North Bullitt learned last week and as the girls’ events this week at North Bullitt and Bullitt Central will show, the only reason to host an event is that it is cheaper to stay home than to go on the road.
    Holiday tournaments draw relatively small crowds. Most people have other things on their mind at this time of year. Only the hard-core fans and parents sit through holiday basketball. The North Bullitt-Bullitt Central crowd for the championship game of the Barger event was maybe a tenth of what the crowd will be like when the two teams meet in the regularly scheduled clashes in the new year.
    Most of the teams in the smaller events bus back-and-forth on game day. The visitors pay for their own transportation and the host team pays for the officials.
    The home team might make a few dollars with a generous sponsor. Normally, sponsors just pay for the awards at the end of the event.
    There is sort of a third branch of holiday tournaments. That is the type that the Bullitt Central Lady Cougars played in when they traveled to Florida for three games at Walt Disney World before Christmas.
    While head coach Bryan Bates certainly wanted to win those games, that wasn’t the reason for the trip. Facing teams from anywhere in the country, you never know what level of competition you will be facing. Making the Florida trips is more a bonding adventure where coaches want their players to stay together in a relatively closed environment to become better teammates.
    Plus, those events take a great deal of fund-raising and organization.