It takes a community
by Bart Moss for the FCT
The Franklin County Tournament is annual rite of passage for the schools that make up the Franklin County school system. It usually spans two weeks after Christmas. The junior high portion of the tournament begins almost immediately following the school system’s Christmas break. The varsity portion of the tournament follows the week after.
The tournament is a big responsibility for the schools in charge of hosting the annual event. This year Belgreen High School hosted the junior high tournament and Red Bay High School hosted the varsity tournament. The tournament is more than just watching basketball; it’s a community event; it’s a social event; it’s a networking event.
“We take pride in hosting the county tournament,” said Red Bay girls basketball coach Donnie Roberts. Roberts has seen over three decades of Franklin County Tournaments. “A lot of people come through those doors from all over the county. We want them to feel at home and welcome. Sometimes this is the only basketball game some people come to during the year. It still means a lot to a lot of people.”
“We ask a lot from our community and our Tip-Off club and they come through for us. They work very hard to make this event a success.”
The process begins in mid-December when the coaches from each school meet for lunch, report each teams records and determine which teams will be placed in the appropriate part of the bracket. The team with best record will get the number one seed and the few advantages that go along with it. For example, there were only three B-Varsity teams in the county this year. Tharptown was the number one seed. Therefore, they only had to play one game- the finals.
Once the teams are seeded the host schools go to work preparing to host the event. There is an unwritten checklist of things that have to done in no particular order. First, the local officiating association has to be notified and given the tournament brackets and schedule to make sure the game officials are at the game and on time. A clock operator and public address announcer must be willing to be available throughout the tournament.
Second, the host school has to coordinate what schools will use a limited availability of dressing rooms.
Third, signage has to be made to direct the visiting teams and fans to the appropriate dressing rooms and side of the gym to sit on. The goal is always to have the fans sitting on opposite sides to avoid problems. With a tournament that is not as easy as it appears.
Fourth, the concession stand needs to be coordinated. Enough food and drinks need to be purchased to accommodate large crowds throughout the week. The concession stand has to be continually staffed with three to five trustworthy people depending on the crowd. Volunteers have to work the window and take orders and money. Someone has to pop the popcorn, cook the nacho cheese, fry the chicken fingers, and cook the hamburgers and hot dogs. Administrators have to make sure enough cash and change is on hand before the game and counts the money after the game.
Fifth, people have to be appointed to take up money at the door. Usually it is teachers. Some schools pay one or two teachers to do the gate each night. Others ask teachers to volunteer. Again, in that position it has to be someone who can be reliable and trustworthy. During a county tournament several hundred people will walk through the door each night.
Sixth, is the hospitality room. Hospitality rooms have become mini restaurants during county tournament week. There purpose is to serve the people who are working the tournament daily or nightly; coaches, administrators, officials, media, and volunteers. Sometimes people just show up in the hospitality room for no explainable reason. That must be accommodated for as well. The menu can vary greatly. At Belgreen, there were Subway sandwiches, a variety of snacks and desserts. There was chicken soup, taco soup, chili, barbecue, and chicken fingers. At Red Bay there was chili, chicken soup, barbecued ribs, Philly cheese steaks, baked beans and a host of desserts. Many volunteers, sponsors and businesses make a good hospitality room come-togethers.
Seventh, the media that come to county tournaments are no longer newspapers. Now a school has to try to make accommodations for a radio station or multiple radio stations and even television.
Finally, at the end of each days games, a crew has to stick around to clean up the gym, concession stand, hospitality rooms and locker rooms to get ready for school the next morning and the next day of games.
Hosting a county tournament is a great opportunity for schools to show how well their community supports their program and the pride they take in their school. It is also a very tough job that requires a lot of coordination, a lot of manpower and long hours.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Red Bay Tip-Off Club president Mike Kennedy. “We take our role as host very seriously and want everyone to enjoy the games and have a good time. But, when it’s over we are ready to pass the torch on to the next hosts. It is an exhausting week.”
Belgreen High School and Red Bay High School did a great job hosting this year’s event. Phil Campbell (junior high) and Tharptown (varsity) are now on the clock for next year’s tournaments.