Talk about an after-Christmas rush.
For the last six years, the two primary gymnasiums at West Valley High School have turned into a hotbed of basketball activity for three days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve as the school, along with Lakeside High School, sponsor the Eagle Holiday Classic tournament.
How much of a hotbed?
Over three days the tournament hosts 72 games – 36 boys games and an equal number of girls games. Varsity games. Junior varsity games.
The majority of holiday basketball tournaments are four-team affairs spread over two days. The host school invites three teams in, and everyone gets two games in over the holiday break.
This was one day of this year’s Eagle Classic girls tournament: Deer Park beat Prosser, 54-47, Okanogan beat Odessa 49-36, Selkirk beat Asotin 24-22, St. George’s beat Bonners Ferry 43-27, Lakeland beat Colfax 48-44, Pullman beat Sandpoint 36-33 and Timberlake beat Medical Lake 52-47.
“We don’t hear too many complaints,” West Valley athletic director Jamie Nilles laughed. “It helps that this is an invitational tournament, so if you complain too much you might not get invited back. There are a lot of schools on our waiting list, and one of them would be glad to take your spot.”
East Valley athletics director Alec Vermaire did have one minor complaint.
“You know, it is run on our rival’s home court,” he joked.
Good luck getting that one addressed.
The idea for the tournament actually started with Lakeside athletic director Jeff Pietz. His girls basketball coach got him to take a serious look at the holiday tournament run in Yakima at the SunDome. There were rumors that the tournament was in trouble and was going to close down.
The coach suggested Pietz and Lakeside take it over and partner up with the area’s other Eagles so it could be run at West Valley.
It’s a matchup that has worked out extraordinarily well.
Pietz handles scheduling for the boys and girls brackets; Nilles handles the logistics. Players on both school’s varsity programs help out along with the booster programs at both schools.
In many ways, it’s been a partnership that works between a good idea at the right time and at the right facility.
For area teams that come from all over Eastern Washington, the Eagle Classic works because of its built-in flexibility. There are schools who like to come in to play one game. Others come for two. Some bring their boys and girls varsity and junior varsity for all three days and get in a dozen games.
“It’s been a pretty fun project,” Nilles said. “We get a lot of help from our basketball parents. It’s a fundraiser for the basketball programs and we get help from current players and parents from both West Valley and Lakeside.”
From the start the schools have divided the profits down the middle once expenses are covered.
The tournament doesn’t contribute to the budgets for each respective varsity program. That’s determined by each school district.
But the monies raised do contribute to those programs in other ways.
“The boosters have been able to provide a number of extra things to the programs,” Nilles said. “Uniforms, travel, team bags for everyone.”
More important than that, a tournament of this size can do a lot to help a school flesh out its nonleague schedule.
“It’s a big help to have this kind of competition right in our own backyard,” Vermaire said. “It’s a big help when it comes to being able to schedule something like this.”
For Class 2A schools like West Valley and East Valley, the basketball schedule this season needed eight nonleague games. The Great Northern League, of which both are members, has five members and each school plays the other four teams three times. That totals 12 league games each season.
Next year, when the league merges into the Greater Spokane League as Class 2A members, there will be at least six teams. Cheney moves up to play Class 3A, and current GSL schools Shadle Park and Rogers should move down to Class 2A to join East Valley, West Valley, Pullman and Clarkston.
That means each school will need to find two more nonleague games.
“With six teams we’ll play everyone twice, so that makes 10 league games.”
For West Valley, the tournament is a big part of its extracurricular activity as a winter sports venue.
“One of the things we needed when I first got here was to ramp up our booster club,” Nilles said. “When I first started we were just OK. Now we’re thriving. We have the holiday classic. We have a good wrestling invite that we host, and we have little kids wrestling. We have a volleyball tournament here.
“We host 2B districts and the 1A districts are here. And we’re getting more and more from the state. The WIAA have worked their way over here to scout us out, and now they’re starting to give us more regional games.”