By Terry Schwinghammer
Josh Dieball hit the game-winning shot in Lintonís 65-64 overtime upset win over Terre Haute South in last yearís Wabash Valley Classic.
Legendary crooner Andy Williams famously sang the lyric, “It’s the Holiday Season” in his Christmas classic tune “Happy Holidays.”
The Holiday Season of course means much more than presents under the tree, family gatherings and Christmas dinners, New Year’s Eve parties and the endless stream of meaningless second-and third-tier football bowls on the telly.
And in the Wide, Wide World of Sports - especially in Indiana - the Holiday Season means Holiday Tournament basketball.
In the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day there is holiday tournament action galore involving Greene County teams.
For starters there’s the annual First Financial Wabash Valley Classic, to be hosted this year by Terre Haute North High School.
Since the second incarnation of this classic dating to 1916 was reborn in December 2000 it has been a favorite of local basketball fans - especially those from Bloomfield, Linton and Shakamak.
(Note: Bloomfield hasn’t played in the Classic since 2011; Linton joined the tournament field in 2007.)
Retired Hall of Fame coach Steve Brett has always been a big fan of the Wabash Valley Tournament.
“It’s a great tournament,” Brett said prior to the 2014 Classic, his last before he retired.
“It’s a multi-class tournament and it’s one of the best things that’s happened in the Wabash Valley in years.”
As an “old-school” coach, Brett particularly enjoyed the one-class aspect of the tournament, where a small school has a chance to go up against the “big boys” from Terre Haute North or South and play for a championship.
The “big vs. small” scenario played out in last year’s Classic when Linton upset Terre Haute South, 65-64 in overtime.
Miner coach Joey Hart likes the tournament because it gives his team a chance to play multiple games in a tournament atmosphere. And it gives the coach a chance to learn about his team, especially playing against unfamiliar opponents they otherwise wouldn’t play.
All the better to prepare for the postseason.
“I like the quick turnarounds without a lot of preparation time,” Hart said. “It gets you ready for tournament play in March.”
Hart said of the tournament, “It’s a grind. It’s really tough. It’s hard on coaches. But the fans love it and the players love it. And it always makes us better.”
Shakamak coach Nate O’Neall reminisced about his memories of the Wabash Valley Classic from his playing days for Ron McBride’s Bloomfield Cardinals.
“We loved the big-time atmosphere,” the Laker coach said.
O’Neall was a freshman in 2000-01 - the first year for the reborn Classic since the original Wabash Valley tournament ceased after 1972.
As a freshman O’Neall got to dress with the varsity team. And the Cardinals reached the final against Hamilton Southeastern that year.
“I got my first varsity minutes in the Wabash Valley,” the former Cardinal recalled. “I scored my first three-pointer in the first round against Cloverdale.
“Of course we got hammered by Hamilton Southeastern (79-46) in the championship,” he laughed.
O’Neall’s senior year in 2003-04 Bloomfield beat the All-Star squad from New Creations Basketball Academy. Current Eastern Greene coach Jon Neill buried a half-court 3-pointer as time expired to lift the Cards to a 29-28 win.
“As a player I had a pretty successful four years in the Wabash Valley,” O’Neall said. “We went to two championships going against big 4A schools.
“It’s good for our kids to play against better competition.”
Fans also have an opportunity to watch teams from “the other side of the Wabash” they wouldn’t ordinarily see - teams like Marshall, Robinson and Casey-Westfield, to name a few.
The Wabash Valley Classic begins Tuesday, December 26 and runs through Friday, December 29.
All in all, it’s a great four days of basketball played in an exciting tournament atmosphere.
Eastern Greene is making its second appearance in the McDonald’s Hoosier Hysteria Tournament, hosted by Vincennes Lincoln.
It’s a loaded tournament field with the likes of Class A fourth-ranked Indianapolis University, 2A No. 8 Indianapolis Howe and 2015 3A state champion Guerin Catholic, along with the host Alices.
Central Christian of Indianapolis, Evansville Day and North Knox are also in the eight-team tournament field.
The tournament begins Friday, December 29 with the Thunderbirds taking on University. Play continues Saturday with eight games, beginning at 9 a.m. and concluding with the championship game at 8:30 p.m.
In last year’s tournament Eastern Greene lost to Howe in the first round. The T-Birds then defeated Southridge and Vincennes Lincoln to win the consolation bracket.
Howe, the 2016 2A State Runner-up is under the direction of a new coach. Kristof Kendrick - the son of former Purdue great Frank Kendrick - is guiding the fortunes of the Howe Hornets this season. The younger Kendrick played collegiately at IUPUI after his prep career at Lafayette Central Catholic. He was previously an assistant coach for several years at Indianapolis Cathedral.
In girls basketball there’s the annual SWIAC/Blue Chip Classic Thursday, December 28. The annual Classic pits two of our Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference girls teams, Shakamak and White River Valley against Blue Chip Conference foes Barr-Reeve and Loogootee.
It’s a four-game deal where a SWIAC team squares off against a Blue Chip team.
In the morning session Shakamak takes on Barr-Reeve and WRV plays Loogootee. In the afternoon, the matchups flip-flop. The Lady Wolverines face Barr-Reeve and the Lady Lakers meet Loogootee.
Loogootee by the way is 10-1 and ranked tenth in Class 1A.
This annual affair alternates with each team hosting every fourth year. This year it’s Barr-Reeve’s turn to host the tournament.
One of the biggest girls basketball tournaments every year is the annual Toby Yoho Classic hosted by Eastern Greene.
Twelve teams compete in pool play, divided into four pools of three teams. A total of 24 games will be played, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Friday, December 29 and concluding with the championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday, December 30.
Teams come from as far away as Brownstown Central, Trinity Lutheran near Seymour, Danville, Riverton Parke, Forest Park and Paoli. Also, local teams Edgewood and Owen Valley compete. SWIAC members Clay City and North Daviess join the host Lady Thunderbirds and Eastern’s sectional counterpart South Knox in the 12-team field.
Adding to the intrigue of the tournament, half the games will be played in the Toby Yoho Gymnasium, a classic venue which now serves as Eastern Greene’s middle school facility.
And after that it’s the annual BloomBank/DuPont Pioneer Greene County Invitational at the venerable classic Switz City Gym.
The tournament begins Tuesday, January 2 and runs through Saturday, January 6. So technically, it’s still a holiday tournament. January 6 after all is Epiphany - and the Twelfth Day of Christmas. So if you leave your Christmas decorations up until then, it’s O.K.
Unfortunately I never got around to making up a goofy Christmas list of Christmas wishes for our area teams and coaches. Didn’t ask anyone what they wanted for Christmas.
But I’m certain one thing all our area teams hope for is success in their upcoming holiday tournaments, continuing into the rest of the season.
So that’s my Christmas wish for all of you.
Oh, and have fun too!
After all, Holiday Tournament time is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
Yes, it’s another Andy Williams Christmas Classic. And Andy is the only one allowed to sing it!
Terry Schwinghammer is a sports writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at (812) 847-4487, ext. 27. He can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.