Robert Husseman, The Triplicate

Middle-school basketball tournament will contribute to scholarship fund

Middle-school boys basketball teams from across Del Norte County will participate in a tournament this Friday and Saturday honoring the late Crescent Elk Middle School physical education teacher Eric Epperson and contributing to a scholarship fund in his name.

The Epperson Memorial Classic pits 22 teams of seventh- and eighth-graders from Del Norte and Humboldt Counties in four divisions of play. Games will be played at Crescent Elk, Redwood Elementary School, Foursquare Church in Crescent City and at Del Norte High School's Thunen Gymnasium and small gymnasium.

"The origin of this tournament came about through (Crescent Elk eighth-grade coach) John Horner and (Redwood eighth-grade coach) John Nuszkiewicz, and Horner's coaching experience with Epp," said Jason Costello, founder of the Eric Epperson Memorial Scholarship and a lifelong friend of the late Epperson. "As much as anything, it's a way ... to just spend a day and remember him."

Humboldt County schools participating include Zane Middle School (Eureka), Toddy Thomas Middle School (Fortuna), Sunny Brae Middle School (Arcata), Hoopa Valley Elementary School (Hoopa), Jacoby Creek Elementary School (Bayside) and Trinity Valley Elementary School (Willow Creek). Each team paid an entry fee to enter the tournament; the proceeds are earmarked for the Eric Epperson Memorial Scholarship.

"These are top-tier (Humboldt-Del Norte) teams coming up," Horner said. "It means a lot to a lot of people."

The inclusion of Del Norte County's smaller schools, Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods and Uncharted Shores Academy, carried additional importance to Horner.

"We play in five tournaments a year," Horner said regarding his Crescent Elk A squad. "A lot of other teams don't get that opportunity. It's an opportunity for (teams like) KRECR to play in other tournaments."

Teams in the eighth-grade Green and White Divisions will play three games under a round-robin format, while the eighth-grade Black division guarantees three games for teams in a pool play format. The seventh-grade division is placed in an eight-team bracket.

Cheerleading teams from the participating middle schools are in on the action as well. A cheer competition will take place at Del Norte High School at 2 p.m. Saturday.

There is no cost to parents or other fans to attend Epperson Classic games or the cheerleading competition. Horner, also the Del Norte County Recreation Department coordinator, said that referees have volunteered to work the games for free in support of the event.

Epperson passed away in April 2012, at the age of 44. A 1986 graduate of Del Norte High School and longtime resident of Del Norte County, Epperson played football for College of the Redwoods in Eureka and attended Humboldt State University. He had served as P.E. teacher at Crescent Elk for 15 years at the time of his passing.

"I think it's a good way for people to help remember him," Costello said.

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