Once heralded as a holiday-season gift for local high school basketball teams and their fans, the event informally known as the Cabarrus County Christmas tournament was on its last breath just two years ago.
The state athletic association had reclassified public schools into the same conference. That appeared to be a fatal blow to the tournament, which had crowned an unofficial county champion for eight seasons.
As plans for the tourney in 2009 evaporated, first-year school Cox Mill stepped up to keep it event alive.
Though the number of local teams has dwindled in the past two years, Cox Mill will host the event again as holiday basketball is played in Cabarrus County this week for the 10th straight year.
The 2010 CMC Northeast Holiday Basketball Tournament will be Monday through Wednesday. Participating teams are Cox Mill, Central Cabarrus, Mount Pleasant, Covenant Classical, Hough, Gray Stone Day, Queens Grant and Ardrey Kell high schools.
The Queens Grant boys and Gray Stone Day girls are the defending champions.
A wrench in the works
The tournament was created in 2001 as an effort to bring the (then) six county schools together after years of seeking holiday tournaments on their own. At the time, Mount Pleasant was in the 2A classification, Kannapolis Brown, Concord, Northwest Cabarrus and first-year Concord Robinson were 3A, and Central Cabarrus was in 4A.
Though several of the schools arranged for regular-season matchups, including those in different conferences, they went their separate ways when it came to the postseason.
Before the 2008 holiday tournament, however, after years of rumors that it could happen, the state athletic association announced plans to put all of Cabarrus' teams in the South Piedmont 3A Conference starting with the 2009-10 school year.
With home-and-home conference games on the slate, some coaches figured their teams could play each in-county team up to five times in the same season. Theoretically, besides regular-season games, any two teams could also meet in the holiday tournament, the conference tournament and the state playoffs.
So for the 2008 holidays, some Cabarrus teams bolted for other tournaments. Concord Robinson was tabbed to host the Cabarrus event, which looked as though it might be the last, at least for the time being.
Robinson's athletic director asked Brad Hinson, then the Robinson boys junior varsity coach, to serve as tournament director, and Hinson accepted. He took some mental notes about what worked for him as tourney director and what didn't, never thinking the tournament would follow him to Cox Mill High.
When he took over as varsity coach of the first-year Chargers' program, Hinson proposed the idea of continuing the tournament as a fundraiser for the basketball teams and athletic department. Hinson said he works more than 15 hours on tournament days but has strong support from Cox Mill girls coach Tony Walters, parent volunteers and some paid staff.
"I enjoy it," Hinson said. "It's better for me, because now I don't have to find a tournament to be in and don't have to worry about travel."
Without a corporate sponsor, the 2009 tournament made about $2,500 after expenses, Hinson said. This year, local sponsor Carolinas Medical Center-Northeast has committed $1,500.
Most of Cabarrus' teams are still committed to other holiday competitions, but Central Cabarrus and Mount Pleasant have stayed loyal to the local tournament, accepting invitations to play in each of the past two years. Covenant Classical, a private school in Concord, also is participating for the second straight year.
"We are glad to take part in it," said Brian King, boys coach at Central Cabarrus. "I like that it is close (to Central Cabarrus). ... They have improved the competition this year. Queen's Grant, the defending champ, is still there, but they have added Ardrey Kell, who is very good, and Hough, a new school in Cornelius.
"Brad does a great job of organizing the tournament," King said. "It was a great experience for us last year."
Tournament organizers do not seed the teams, but with only three Cabarrus County public schools participating, they guarantee that no two will play each other in the first round. Each team is guaranteed three games and will place first through eighth.