By Bill Choy
Triplicate sports editor
A gym packed to near overflow with cheering fans hanging on every move down the basketball court.
A player standing on the free throw line during a tied game with time running out.
Brady Shaha calmly sank both free throws as the crowd erupted.
This was not college or high school game action, but middle school students playing what is considered one of the best tournaments of its kind in the region.
Saturday afternoon's matchup was between Toddy Thomas of Fortuna and Creekside of Rohnert Park at Del Norte High School, which the Hornets of Toddy Thomas won 55-52 in AAA division action to go on to the championship game.
It was one of countless nail-biters at the 40th annual Crescent City Jaycees 8th Grade Basketball Tournament held Friday and Saturday.
Fifty-six teams from throughout California and Oregon, as well as several cheerleading squads, took part in the event that has become a tradition for many squads.
Gyms throughout the area were packed with families and friends watching top-notch basketball.
But the Jaycees tournament is about more than basketball.
There were cheer competitions, a crowning of the tournament queen, a poster contes and other events packed into two days that participants will remember for years to come.
Just ask Tom Silvey, one of the director's of the tournament.
Once, when he was in Kelseyville, one of the towns that consistently participates in the tournament, a young man approached him.
He told Silvey he played in the event when he was in middle school and was now going to be playing basketball in college and said how much participating had influenced his life.
"That meant a lot me," Silvey said, adding it's nice to know that the tournament has given generations of kids fond memories.
More memories were made this past weekend.
While the Toddy Thomas versus Creekside basketball game played out, there was a lot more going on at the high school.
In the small gym a hoop shoot contest was under way.
Hallways outside the gym were packed with cheerleaders practicing their routines for the cheer competition, which took place in the main gym after the game.
In a grassy spot outside, members of a local cheer team were going through their final paces before the competition.
The members of both squads of Fort Dick's Redwood School carefully practiced their routines under the watchful eye of coach Carla Bruder.
"This is like the Super Bowl of basketball competition for the local area," she said. "They love coming here and competing each year."
Shauna Ratnour, an eighth- grader and member of the Redwood A cheer team, has been involved in cheer activities for seven years and said before the competition she was excited to be performing at the Jaycees tournament.
"It's fun to get out in front of people," she said, adding she enjoys competing against good squads "because it makes us better."
Redwood A cheer member Leighana Martindale was ready to perform.
"I feel really strong about it (the routine)," she said. "We've worked really hard on it. It's fun to go out and show people what we're about."
Bruder said a favorite event is the cheer practice party Friday night.
This is when cheer clubs from all over meet before the competition on Saturday and get to know one another better.
Many keep in touch by exchanging e-mail addresses.
While it's always nice to win, Bruder said the tournament is about more than that.
It is about the friendships and connections everyone makes and doing something the kids enjoy to do.
"They just go out and have fun," she said. "It's about sportsmanship."
At the hoop shoot contest, Tom Lindquist of Trinidad sat in the stands watching his son compete.
This was the first year he had attended the event and he was impressed.
"It's outstanding," he said. "The boys are having a blast. It's all about the kids here."
Lindquist is also a coach on the Trinidad team and said he has been impressed with the competition and level of sportsmanship.
He said the event has been especially valuable for the seventh-graders on the team.
"They get to see the high level of competition here and what they need to do to improve," Lindquist said.
Back at the main high school gym, Toddy Thomas was holding onto a slim lead shortly after Shaha made both of his free throws.
After Creekside went down the court and missed, Hornet head coach Vince Zinselmeir called a time-out.
He told his team to maintain its composure.
"We don't have to force anything," Zinselmeir said. "But you still have to attack. Be smart with the ball."
But Creekside was not about to give up. An open man hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 52-52 with about 30 seconds left in overtime.
The Hornets ran down the court and Shaha was fouled again.
He made his first shot to give his team a 1-point lead with 22 seconds left.
He missed the second. Teammate Youjay Baird rebounded the ball, tried to put it in but missed. Shaha was right there, grabbed the rebound, shot and scored to give the Hornets the a bigger lead and the eventual win.
When the buzzer sounded, Hornets players embraced as fans cheered.
During the handshakes, players from Creekside wiped away tears after their terrific effort fell a little bit short.
All the fans cheered for Creekside as they left the court.
Back on the Hornets' side, an excited parent came up to her son, gave him a warm embrace and said, "I'm so proud of you."
"It was pretty exciting," Shaha said of the game. "My heart was beating fast a lot, but it was fun."
Toddy Thomas has been going to the Crescent City tournament for many years, Zinselmeir said.
"It's just great competition here," he said. "It challenges us and pushes us more by playing good teams from out of our area."
Earlier Saturday, local team Crescent Elk A battled Sunset with the game going to triple- overtime before Sunset pulled out the win, 79-78.
"It was a great game," Silvey said, adding while it was disappointing for Crescent Elk to lose, its players had shown great sportsmanship and should be proud of being part of such an epic game.
"Win or lose, everyone in that game played outstanding," Silvey said. "It just shows the high level of competition we have at the tournament."
Here is a partial list of winners from the tournament. A complete list will run in The Triplicate later this week.
AAA Division championship game: Grant 57, Toddy Thomas 56
AA Division championship game: North Bend 43, El Portal 34
A-1 Division championship game: St. Joseph, Redding 46, Redwood A 43
A-2 Division championship game: Pacheco 59, RLS 44
B-1 Division championship game: Leggett Valley 51, Smith River 39
B-2 Division championship game: Yoncalla 32, Arena 27
C Division championship game: Burnt Ranch 53, St. Joseph, Crescent City 46
Tournament Queen: Whitney Ford, Smith River
Sportsmanship and Participation Award: Weaverville
3rd place: Winship
2nd place: Crescent Elk
1st Place: Toddy Thomas
2nd Redwood A's
2nd: Smith River
1st: Stanwood Murphy
3rd: Redwood B
2nd: Crescent Elk B
1st: Douglas City