By PETE YOUNG
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 5, 2001
The three county holiday tournaments sandwiched between Christmas and New Year's Day drew quality teams from out of the area, which can be a conflict. Good imports raise the caliber of the tournaments, but if they beat the locals, attendance can suffer.
The Hooters Holiday Shootout faced this conundrum when no local team reached the final, hurting the gate receipts for the biggest game of the tournament. Hialeah Champagnat Catholic beat Lexington, S.C., for the title while Boca Ciega and Lakewood dueled in the third-place game.
"We like the out-of-town competition to be strong, to give the local schools a chance to face state-tournament level competition. But obviously having the local teams advance brings out the community more," Hooters team-selection chairman Matt Ramker said.
The inaugural Blue Jacket Holiday Classic at Admiral Farragut had a near-perfect climax, with an unbeaten local team, CCC, playing unbeaten Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's. As a bonus for AFA coach Mike Wells, his depleted team -- several of the boarding school students went home for the holidays -- captured third in the 16-team event.
"The local teams really brought good crowds," Wells said. "It made a lot of money. And if we can serve the community and the kids and we can support it, then great."
The Keswick Suncoast Classic ended almost ideally, with the host school reaching the boys and girls final -- but losing both. "Being in both finals definitely helped," said Keswick athletic director Jack Clark, who instituted the girls tournament this year. "We accomplished what we wanted with the tournament."
IN AND OUT: Jim McDonald resigned as Shorecrest coach last month and has been replaced by assistant Joe Rittman. McDonald, who had come out of retirement from college coaching, was in his first season.
"It just wasn't a good mix," McDonald said.
Rittman, a retired Army colonel, was beginning his third season as an assistant at Shorecrest.
"The kids have been really, really good," said Rittman, whose team improved to 5-6 with a win at Lakeside Christian on Thursday. "We've got real good senior leadership, and we're working our way forward. We're looking at February. That's our time to have it all together."
HOLIDAY ROAD TRIPS: Many of the top local schools left the area to play in a holiday tournament.
Largo (13-3), No. 6 in the Times Tampa Bay Top 10, played at Naples Barron Collier, losing its opening game 60-59 to Immokalee before winning three. Countryside (8-3), No. 10 in the Times poll, split two games at Gainesville Buchholz. The Cougars lost to Alachua Santa Fe and defeated a team from Virginia.
ON THE FLY: The Northeast gym, which has undergone a wholesale refurbishment the past year, is slated to host its first event Jan. 23 when the boys basketball team plays Largo. ... At 7:30 tonight at St. Petersburg Catholic, the Barons (12-3) host CCC (13-1) in a Class 3A, District 11 game that figures to be one of the best in the county this year.