Robert Husseman, The Triplicate

56-team field will play in gyms throughout the area

Asked how many hours went into the setup of the Crescent City Jaycees 45th Annual 8th Grade Boys Basketball Tournament, George Wilder hesitates.

"I don't even know. Thousands," replies Wilder, a member of the Crescent City Jaycees and one of the tournament organizers. "I don't think anybody's ever counted. It's been going on since late October."

Eight volunteer directors and several part-time volunteers are responsible for scouting middle-school teams, filling the tournament brackets, finding and paying officials and scorekeepers, renting gymnasiums, preparing event programs, selling advertisements, courting sponsors and donors and answering any little question a school team or community member might have.

Oh, and then actually running the event.

"I probably won't sleep much Thursday night," Wilder admitted. "Of course not Friday or Saturday. I'm going to be sleeping plenty on Sunday."

Basketball competition begins at 4 p.m. Friday with the first games of the tournament and continues at 9 a.m. Saturday. Games will be played at Del Norte High School (Thunen Gymnasium and the small gym), Crescent Elk Middle School (gymnasium and multipurpose room), Redwood Elementary School, Foursquare Church, Smith River Baptist Church and at the Del Norte County Recreation Department gymnasium.

Competition will occur across seven divisions, in eight-team bracket play: AAA, AA, A-1, A-2, B-1, B-2 and C. Crescent Elk, Redwood, Smith River Elementary and Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods are the Del Norte County schools fielding teams.

The eighth-grade cheerleading competition begins at 2:45 p.m. Saturday at Del Norte High School's Thunen Gymnasium. There will also be a mascot competition and coronation for the Tournament Queen on Saturday.

Tournament organizers cull the 56-team field from an initial list of 350 middle schools from across California and Oregon, Wilder said. Teams are invited to participate based on their performance during the season, with alternates ready and willing to fill in.

"I've had a B-division team (enter the tournament) - the coach tells me 'Hey, my team wants to come so bad,'" recalls Harry Adams, a Jaycees member and the lead program advertising salesman. "Well, I had a vacancy in a Double-A bracket. He came anyway."

"His team got wiped off the court, but the kids got the Jaycees tournament experience."

That experience was cultivated throughout the first 44 years by Arman Gunnerson, the Jaycees Tournament chairman who died in 2011 at the age of 74. This is the first tournament fully executed without the aid of Gunnerson, and in his absence it has taken "(eight) of us to replace one man," Adams notes with a laugh.

"Without the support of the community, we couldn't do this, because Arman Gunnerson paid for a lot of (past tournaments) out of his own pocket," Adams says.

The total bill for the tournament comes out to about $50,000, Wilder says. The Jaycees receive donations large and small and sell ads in the tournament program, sweat shirts and concessions with the aim of breaking even first, and throwing everything back into the tournament and related scholarship funds second.

"I can tell within five seconds if I can sell an ad or not. Clients will ask, 'If I double my ad (buy), will I make some extra money?' I say, 'No, you're not. But you'll support the Jaycees.'"

The organizational experience culminates with a pair of jump-balls at 4 p.m. Friday, kicking off the last major middle-school basketball event of the season.

"Most of these kids are not going to play basketball ever again," Wilder said, "so we try to end it on a very positive note for all the kids."

After which, the organizers may finally get some sleep.

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