Daniel Boone High School is tournament central for the next couple of weeks.
The sixth annual Next Level Trailblazer Classic, a tournament which features 16 middle school boys’ and 16 middle school girls’ teams as well as a pair of high school varsity boys’ games, has been going on since Monday.
Next week is the Johnson City Honda Invitational, a get-together for 16 varsity and nine junior varsity girls teams.
As one might imagine, it’s no easy task to host these back-to-back tournaments over the holidays.
“There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes on,” Daniel Boone athletic director Danny Good said. “You start working on next year right now, getting teams confirmed to come back next year. When it gets closer to that time, you get with all the ticket-takers, security, clean-up and all the things you have to do to host 65 teams.
“You’re looking at 750 kids, plus parents and all over a two-week holiday. It’s a lot to take on, but our kids get to sleep in their own beds instead of traveling like a lot of teams do. We feel fortunate because Gray is such a great location and easy access for the surrounding school systems to come and play.”
Daniel Boone athletes and coaches from other sports play an active role in hosting the tournaments. With this week’s tournament serving as the major fundraiser for the boys’ basketball program, players work with others to get the facilities ready. Their duties include cleaning the gyms, supplying locker rooms and getting hospitality rooms ready.
“The funds we make from the boys’ tournament go to boys’ basketball,” Good said. “It helps finance them and allows them to have the extra things. But, we’re teaching our kids a value there. If you want something, you go work for it. It’s not just about the X’s and O’s, wins and losses, it’s instilling that work ethic.”
The work of past groups is now paying rewards. The middle school tournament started with eight teams and the purpose of getting the Boone feeder programs more exposure. It’s since grown to 16 and now 32 teams with a waiting list to get in. Trailblazers head coach Ryan Arnold explained Boone could have hosted a pair of 20-team tournaments this week if not for the logistical problems.
Tonight’s action also includes a pair of high school varsity games with Volunteer taking on Happy Valley, followed by Daniel Boone hosting Unaka.
“I think we will have competitive games,” Arnold said. “We’re really focused on the middle school aspect of this tournament, but we take pride in playing in it. We’ve only lost one game in it since we’ve been playing in this.”
Arnold isn’t taking Unaka lightly. Among the Rangers’ early-season victories was a blowout win over David Crockett at the Hardee’s Classic.
“They’re for real. They have good guard play and have older kids, a senior team,” Arnold said. “Coach (Aaron) Dugger does a great job and Unaka is just a great basketball place. When I think of Unaka High School, I think of the great teams, the state tournament wins. You know it’s not going to be a cupcake win for us.”
On Saturday, Unaka will open with Volunteer and Boone plays Happy Valley. The last time Happy Valley visited Bobby Snyder Gymnasium, the Warriors beat the Trailblazers for legendary coach Charlie Bayless’ final victory.
“I would have to say that’s my best loss,” Arnold said. “I respect Coach Bayless tremendously. I have one of his paddles which he signed for me. I also have a picture of me and him after that game. I will cherish that for a long, long time. If you had to lose one, that was a good one to lose.”
Next week, the focus shifts to the Johnson City Honda Inviational, which thanks to the major sponsorship, has grown into one of the area’s top girls’ tournaments.
“Joe Trujillo from Johnson City Honda, his girls went to Ridgeview,” Good explained. “They go to Providence now, but Joe continues to support his community. He still lives in Gray and he helps us out and supports us. We’re really appreciative of that.”
It appears to be a competitive field entered in the tournament. A lot of time has been spent trying to get the most appealing matchups for both the teams and fans.
“You look at the bracket and we’ve got some quality teams,” Good said. “We have Hampton, Seymour, Dobyns-Bennett and Gate City in it. Those are four quality teams. We tried to do first-round matchups where you don’t play anybody in conference. But, we have some pretty strong teams in there.”
Good added both tournaments are ultimately successful because of the willingness of all of Daniel Boone’s parents, boosters and coaches to lend a helping hand.
“At the end of the day, we’re all here for these kids. Our coaches get that,” Good said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a boys’ player, a girls’ player, a football player or a cross country runner, when it comes to the kids, we all should help out.”