Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

December 31, 2013

Christmas Classic shows promise

Ryan Czachorski
For the Daily News

EFFINGHAM — With the inaugural Effingham-Teutopolis Christmas Classic in the books, I'm already looking back on how I spent a whirlwind weekend at the tournament.

The most important question for any of these tournaments is always: Was the basketball any good?

The Christmas Classic gets a rousing yes in that department. While the games weren't always the closest, the matchups and the way the games played out lent themselves well to some interesting storylines.

Any game involving Chicago Al Raby was interesting on its face, just to see how their style would match up with the teams from down south. Even the fifth-place game against winless teams Mattoon and Charleston was dramatic with two fierce rivals facing off.

Mt. Vernon/Teutopolis might have been the most entertaining game of the tournament with Teutopolis blitzing the Rams late, and if not, it was the title game.

With respects to the other fan bases and teams, the Christmas Classic got the matchup everyone wanted to see with Effingham and Teutopolis facing off for the crown.

It was exactly what you'd expect, a hard-fought game between two teams that know each other like the backs of their respective hands. Even the final score was misleading, with Teutopolis putting the clamps on late and running away with what had been a close game.

But now I'm looking toward the future, toward next year, toward five years down the road.

And for the inaugural event, I think it was a great success.

The gyms were generally pretty full, even for the morning games Saturday and for the games not involving the host schools. Even some of the most entrenched local tournaments struggle to fill seats when the most local of teams aren't playing.

I originally was disappointed to not see the fans from Al Raby in attendance, as fan presence at tournaments is great for the schools and the area, because that kind of trip increases hotel reservations and money spent in the area.

But, the team was a late addition, and teams and families generally have their Christmas plans shored up long before a week prior to the tournament.

The Classic is serious about its growth, as the topic was discussed many times over the weekend. I think that's wise, but I do think it would benefit the tournament to look as wide as possible.

To me, the tournament is meant to showcase the basketball of the area and the area itself to new guests. With a good mix of local-ish teams like Mt. Vernon and Charleston, and a few more teams from around the state like Al Raby, I think that's a reachable goal.

Tournament officials should look to the example set by the Crossroads Classic volleyball tournament held in town, headed up by George Wenthe. I know Wenthe is always scouring the area for new teams, heading to state tournaments, making contacts, etc.

With that kind of mentality, the tournament could become the destination holiday tournament in the area. That's not to say such efforts aren't being conducted, but the perfect example of how to make something like this work happens to be held in the same city.

Any complaint I had was of the most minor variety, and mostly couldn't have been avoided from a first-ever event.

The hopes are there. The expectations are there. The only things the Classic needs is time to build the event up the way they want to.

And after the first one, I don't doubt they'll get there.