Basketball tournament combines fellowship, competition

GREENVILLE — The 39th annual diocesan Youth Basketball Tournament involved a full year of planning, 48 teams, 65 games and 10 separate venues, yet the main event included no roundball play at all.

“Father (Jay Scott) Newman said Mass on Saturday evening for about 800 people in Timmons Arena (on the Furman University campus), which was followed by a pizza party and dance,” said Chris Caver, athletic director of St. Mary school and church, which hosted the tournament. “That was the focal point for this long weekend: Mass and fellowship.”

Hundreds of young athletes and their fans also worked in some heavy-duty competition on the hardwood before and after the Mass celebration.

In order to allow families to arrive at their homes in the Midlands and Lowcountry at a reasonable hour on a day before school, championship play began at 8 a.m. on Sunday and ended before 3 p.m. By then, the field had been pared down to four runner-up games and four championship games.

The consolation finals took place at Prince of Peace gymnasium and featured Junior boys (13 and under) from Blessed Sacrament in West Ashley and St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken; and Junior girls from St. Andrew in Myrtle Beach and St. Mary of Aiken. Also, in the Senior division (14 and up), boys from Stella Maris on Sullivan’s Island and St. Mary of Aiken; and girls from Prince of Peace and Our Lady of the Rosary parishes vied for the consolation prize.

Referee Benny McGregor, a veteran official in the S.C. High School League who worked eight of the tournament  games, said the level of competition in the final rounds was good. “They play as well as small public high school teams,” he said.

In the Senior girls’ championship game, that level of play included what Coach Polly Graham of Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant called “a dogfight.”

“Our M.O. is the transition game; if we’re going to win we’re going to win on hustle,” Graham said.

Hustle worked. Graham’s Crusaders played St. Mary of Greenville, who dominated inside and led at the half, 12-8. But Christ Our King ball hawked and came back to win 30-21.

Graham thought the tournament was well organized and worth the time and expense of the journey from the Charleston area.

“The kids and their families made a big sacrifice for this, but they feel as if they are part of a larger Catholic community when they all get together. It was a great experience for them,” the volunteer coach said.

In the Senior boys’ championship game, Blessed Sacrament beat the host team from St. Mary 46-35. In the Junior girls’ championship, Christ Our King beat St. Mary of Aiken 29-10.

The Junior boys’ champion was Our Lady of the Rosary, who beat Christ Our King 57-41.

The tournament rotates every year among the cities of Greenville, Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Aiken. It is sponsored by the Diocese of Charleston “in the name of the youth,” according to Caver.