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11/26/2013 2:29:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
BCC celebrates 25th anniversary
Nobody can argue now that the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce's Basketball Capital Classic wasn't a good idea.

The tournament will turn 25 years old this weekend, when games are played in the venerable old gym in Bridgeport and the brand, spanking new one in Lawrenceville.

Through a quarter-century the tournament has rolled with the punches. The quality of the field has steadily improved and now it's considered one of the area's premier Thanksgiving get-togethers.

Those who have been primarily involved from the beginning say the Capital Classic was the brain-child of Phil Alsman, a coach and teacher at Parkview Junior High School, who died in 1995.

Roger Kull, who is more or less in charge of things at the Lawrenceville site, says Alsman first mentioned the idea of a tournament at a Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce meeting in early 1989. Alsman's idea was to model the tournament after the King Cotton Classic, a prestigious national-level event which ran from 1982 through 1999 in Pine Bluff, Ark.

Travis Creed, founder of the King Cotton, was contacted.

"(Creed) had teams from both coasts coming to his tournament," Kull said. "If a team was ranked in the top 10 (nationally), Travis would call them and see how he could get them to come to Pine Bluff.

"We talked to him, and got some ideas about how to do something on a much smaller scale."

The inaugural tournament, in 1989, consisted of only four schools. Teams from Casey, Mount Carmel and Providence, Ky. invaded Lawrenceville for games on Nov. 24 and 25. Lawrenceville, Casey and Mount Carmel all finished with 2-1 records, but Casey was awarded the title based on shooting 65.8 percent at the foul stripe, compared to 63 percent for Mount Carmel and 56 percent for the Indians.

Plans for the dual round-robin tournament were already in place at the time. However, Red Hill was committed to playing in a Thanksgiving tournament at Paris in 1989, and the full-blown Capital Classic didn't start until the following season.

Kull recalls stiff opposition, especially from a top-tier Lawrenceville administrator, when the idea was first presented.

"He didn't think we could pull it off," Kull said. "Finally we convinced him to let us try, but only for two or three years. It was hard for us to get him to give us a chance to get it off the ground."

Terry Andrews, who refereed in the inaugural Classic, quickly joined the efforts and has - more or less - been in charge at the Bridgeport site since 1990.

Andrews noted that the tournament has been through a lot of subtle changes. Originally, only four of the eight teams played Saturday evening. Other formats have been tried, but in recent years the Cap Classic has settled on one that calls for all eight teams to take the floor four times.

"One year we tried to seed the teams, and we've tried a lot of different things," Andrews said. "But the old saying goes 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' I think the coaches really like the way we do things now. We're trying to make it as competitive as we can."

Lawrence County teams dominated the tournament from 1990 through 1997. Red Hill won the tournament from 1990 through 1992, and again in 1996 and 1997. Lawrenceville got into the act with championships in 1994 and 1995.

A major coup for the tournament was bringing Teutopolis - and the large following it brings - into the fold in 1998. The Wooden Shoes immediately won back-to-back BCC crowns, then reeled off four straight from 2003 through 2006. T-Town, the defending champion, enters the weekend having won the tournament a record nine times.

Two former Cap Classic standouts have played in the National Basketball Association.

Meyers Leonard, who led Robinson to a runnerup finish in 2009, is currently in his second season with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Prior to that, Brian Cardinal - who spent 12 seasons playing for Detroit, Washington, Golden State, Memphis, Minnesota and Dallas - participated in the tournament for Tolono Unity in 1994. Unity lost in the championship game to Lawrenceville that season, 75-46.

"It shows what kind of talent evaluator I am," Andrews joked. "I remember telling people there was no way he could play at Purdue, and he sure couldn't make it in the NBA. It just shows how little I know."

After a quarter-century, those involved say the stress level has been reduced.

"We've done for so long and things have gone so well that now it's like clockwork," said Kull. "We get so much backing from the community and we have a lot of great sponsors. It might not be on the scale of the King Cotton Classic, but it's been a terrific tournament on a smaller scale."

A lot has changed since the tournament started 25 years ago. There will be a lot more changes in the next quarter-century.

But chances are in 2038 the Basketball Capital Classic will be as strong as ever.


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