Robert Husseman, The Triplicate

Community members across Del Norte county came together to keep the memory of an educator alive in their hearts and minds.

Twenty-two middle-school basketball teams converged on gyms across Del Norte County on Friday and Saturday for the 1st Annual Eric Epperson Memorial Classic, named after the late physical education teacher at Crescent Elk Middle School.

Team entry fees were donated to the Eric Epperson Memorial Scholarship fund. Gate fees were waived; referees, clock operators, scorekeepers and snack vendors volunteered their time.

Jason Costello, the scholarship fund's founder and a lifelong friend of Epperson, announced at Saturday night's award ceremony that three scholarships of $1,000 apiece will be awarded at the end of the academic year. The fund awarded a single $800 scholarship last year.

That announcement truly capped off the event.

"Everything went extremely smoothly because of all the volunteer help," tournament organizer John Horner said. "Everybody pitched in to make sure it went well. All the out-of-town folks had a good time."

Those from Humboldt County who had known Epperson spoke fondly of him.

"He was a great guy," said Carlos Avelar, head coach of the Sunny Brae Middle School (Arcata) eighth-grade team. "One of my favorite opposing coaches. He was a gentleman, a fair man. A fun guy to coach against and have as a friend. I was totally shocked when (he passed away)."

Avelar said that, to add the Epperson Classic to Sunny Brae's schedule, he was forced to cancel a tournament for seventh-grade teams in Arcata that was entering its 28th year.

Avelar, who has coached youth basketball for Sunny Brae since 1999, also instructed his Roadrunners in the importance of the tournament.

"I told my kids, 'He was a great guy to coach against,'" Avelar said.

Students from Crescent Elk Middle School, playing in celebration of the game, also noted the significance of the tournament.

"I remember him trying to help me with basketball," said Crescent Elk eighth-grader Chee Shorty. Asked about the outpouring of support for his former teacher, Shorty said, "It's awesome."

One Del Norte County team took home first place in its respective division: Smith River A, in the eighth-grade White division. The Wildcats defeated Hoopa Valley Elementary of Hoopa, Jacoby Creek Elementary of Bayside and Redwood in their three games to take home the banner. Redwood finished fourth in the division, also losing to Jacoby Creek and Hoopa.

The Crescent Elk A eighth-grade team finished third in the Green division pool behind champion Toddy Thomas Middle School of Fortuna and Sunny Brae.

Sunny Brae, Crescent Elk and Zane Middle School (Eureka) each had 1-2 tournament records; their placement was decided by combined point differential. Toddy Thomas won all three of its games.

In the Black division, Trinity Valley Elementary School emerged as champion after winning Pool B and then defeating Pool A winner Crescent Elk B in the championship game.

Redwood B won the third-place game over Smith River B, and Crescent Elk C defeated Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods in the fifth-place game.

In the seventh-grade division, Crescent Elk A defeated Uncharted Shores Academy and Sunny Brae's seventh-grade team before falling in the championship game Saturday to Zane. Redwood's seventh-grade team defeated Crescent Elk B in the consolation final for fifth place, and Redwood's sixth-grade team defeated Uncharted Shores in the seventh-place game.

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