Wanted: Teams!

by Don Ratzlaff

The competition on the court may be over for the 2002 Trojan Classic, but for Max Heinrichs, Hillsboro High School activities director, the competition for the 2003 tournament is already fast and furious.

Through last week, Heinrichs was still two teams short of securing an eight-team field for next year’s event.

Heinrichs said the challenge of finding new teams is normal in the evolution of a tournament.

“About the age of our tournament, it’s always the hardest to find teams,” he said. “What happens is that the teams that have been with you those first years are finally going to start looking for another tournament because of travel, or they want to play some different people, too.”

Heinrichs said he knew Medicine Lodge was in between tournaments this year and had signed on for only one year.

But when Smoky Valley recently announced it was going to move to the Salina Invitational Tournament next winter, he unexpectedly had two openings to fill.

It hasn’t been easy.

As of last Thursday, Heinrichs said he had contacted 107 schools and had only a couple of “maybes” to show for it.

“Too many people are trying to get their own tournament going and so it’s saturated,” he said.

The late notice from Smoky Valley has made Heinrich’s job all the more difficult.

“When they don’t notify you early, you can’t get the team they’re replacing (at the tournament they’re heading to),” he said. “I called Russell, who they’re replacing, but Russell had already signed with another tournament, so we were kind of left in a bad spot.”

Several other recruiting factors come into play this year, too.

For one, it doesn’t help that the Adolph Rupp Tournament in nearby Halstead also has an opening for a team.

“We’re calling a lot of the same people,” Heinrichs said.

A second factor is the success the Trojans have had at their own tournament, winning six titles in eight years.

“We’ve got ourselves into a position where we’re doing so well that people don’t want to come,” Heinrichs said. “Some coaches figure the best they can do is take second.”

A third factor is that some tournaments are paying teams as much as $1,000 a year to participate.

“We pay too,” Heinrichs said. “Most of our teams this year will make about $500. But when I first heard that I thought, holy cow, we’re paying teams to come here?”

Some of the same tournaments that pay big bucks also offer a “big-time” atmosphere.

“What kills us for the Salina Invitational is that teams play in the Bicentennial Center, and they pay $1,000 a team,” he said. “It’s hard to compete against that.”

A fourth consideration is inviting the right kind of school.

“We need to get a couple of teams that will bring us a little bigger gate,” Heinrichs said.

For that reason, he hasn’t tried to sign any of the large high schools from Wichita, for instance. They have large student bodies but don’t always bring a lot of fans with them.

Besides that, some of the smaller schools who already play in the Classic have said they would be less inclined to come if they had to face schools so much bigger than they are.

As if all those obstacles weren’t enough, the newest wrinkle in high school tournaments is running simultaneous tournaments for boys and girls at the same location.

A growing number of schools are favoring that format because it cuts down on the number of missed classroom days, Heinrichs said.

“If we would run a boys’ and girls’ (tournament), I could have filled it with eight teams, no problem,” Heinrichs said. “Since we’re running just a boys’, most teams don’t want to come.”

Heinrichs said he has been part of some preliminary conversations that may lead to changes in the Trojan Classic format down the road.

For next year, Heinrichs still feels confident he can find two more teams to fill an eight-team bracket-even if he has to cross the state line into Nebraska or Oklahoma.

But if he can’t find them, he said the Classic will simply go with the six teams they already have.

“Hopefully, I’ll find two more teams for next year,” he said. “If I don’t, we’ll go with a double (three-team) pool, and everybody will get the same amount of games. It just won’t be a seeded-bracket tournament.”

He said moving to a boys-and girls format is a possibility down the road, but it would require using the facilities at Tabor College as well as HHS-an option he has not even inquired about.

“Tabor might go for it because they could make a little money, and it could be a good recruiting tool for them,” he said. “But even if they would, finding enough workers-like to run the clock and the book-would be a challenge.”

Another idea that has been tossed about is enhancing the present format by adjusting the playing schedule, adding overnight lodging for the teams on Friday, and then a breakfast and motivational speaker on Saturday morning.

“Those are some ideas we’re looking at, but we’re not going to change the whole thing,” he said. “We want the Classic to be bigger and better. That’s our goal. If something like that will bring in another team, we’re going to kick around those ideas. We have a great facility, and we want to show it off.”

Heinrichs said that even with the present challenges, the Trojan Classic is still a strong tournament. This year, with a record gate “right at” $10,000, the athletic department cleared around $1,000.

The Trojan Booster Club also generated significant revenue from concessions.

“They did a great job again helping us with it,” he said of the Booster Club volunteers. “They take care of their part of it.

“I would be really positive about it all if I had two more teams-and I’m almost positive we’ll get them.”

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