Drawing teams from afar, it’s about more than basketball
The tournament is the season finale for nearly all of the teams. They come from all over California, Oregon and occasionally as far away as Arizona.
“We are the granddaddy of them all,” said Jaycees Tournament Director John Phillips. “This is the end of the season for these eighth grade kids. Some of them will never play basketball again. Many people who play in this tournament never forget it.”
The tournament began with just one division in 1968. It has grown incredibly.
“We started out 46 years ago with eight teams and then gradually built up,” said Phillips. “Now we are at 56 and one of our goals is to have 64 teams someday and be as big as the NCAA Tournament. We have enough facilities to do it now with the Smith River Gym opening up and two new motels going up. The town can do eight more teams. Once we get the commitment from out-of-town teams to come and do it, we will go to 64.”
More than basketball
While basketball is the main focus of the weekend, it is far from the only competition that the Jaycees Tournament offers.
On Saturday, Del Norte High School will be the epicenter of action as the basketball teams take a break in the early afternoon.
Thunen Gym will host the cheerleading competition, which has 24 teams this year.
“We start working on this in January,” said co-chair of the cheerleading competition Terri Colton. “The teams all have to go through qualifiers — they must win a qualifier to automatically qualify. After that and the invitations, we know how many squads will be in it. They have to cheer for their basketball team at their games and do the Saturday afternoon cheer competition.”
Also during the break, Thunen Gym will be the site of the crowning of the Jaycees Tournament Queen, a mascot skit competition and a secret friend hunt. Meanwhile in the small gym, a select player from each team will be competing in a shooting competition.
All of these competitions end in an award for each of the participants.
“Every basketball player gets a participation certificate, every cheerleader gets a ribbon and every princess gets a ribbon,” Colton said.
There is also a poster competition, in which each school is invited to submit a poster showing off its school spirit.
All about sportsmanship
With everything that goes on, the main focus of the Jaycees Tournament is sportsmanship. The biggest honor of the tournament is the Arman Gunnerson Sportsmanship Award, given to just one team out of all seven divisions. Tournament Chairman Luke O’Laughlin said that the sportsmanship award is more important than winning a division.
“That is playing the game the way it is supposed to be played and being a good sport about it,” Phillips said. “We are a sportsmanship tournament. We are about old school basketball and shaking hands afterwards, just having fun and being good.”
The award is a total school effort, however, not just about how the basketball team carries itself.
“In order to get the sportsmanship award, you basically have to participate in everything in the tournament,” Colton said.
The sportsmanship award is named after Arman Gunnerson, one of the chief organizers of the tournament from 1968 until his death in 2011.
“He didn’t start the tournament, but he had been with it the whole time, teaching us all how to do it,” Phillips said. “He had been the backbone of the tournament for over 40 years and this is our 46th one.”