BRISTOL — No matter how it’s sliced, the Arby’s Classic is going to have a different flavor this year.
Science Hill, the area’s premier drawing card for the holiday basketball tournament, will not be part of the event for the first time in over two decades. But the 29th annual tournament will still begin Dec. 27 at Viking Hall.
Pairings for the tourney were announced Sunday at the Arby’s restaurant on Volunteer Parkway.
Science Hill chose to participate in a tournament in Hawaii this year.
“I think it’s a great tournament with the outside teams,” said Sullivan East head coach John Dyer. “But it’s a lot different without Science Hill. It’s always an awesome game when they play, with their fan support.
“But at the same time, I can’t blame them for going to Hawaii. It’s a great opportunity.”
In an vicarious kind of way, the Hilltoppers will have a presence in the tournament as Arden (N.C.) Christ School is in the field. Former Science Hill standouts Shannon Hale and Jaylen Allen play for the Greenies after transferring earlier this year.
This may be a test for the Arby’s Classic. Will the big crowds come to see local teams Sullivan East, Tennessee High, Dobyns-Bennett, Cherokee and Greeneville play against non-local powerhouses? Other close teams are Virginia’s Gate City and Hurley, along with Sevier County.
“We’re not concerned about it,” said Tennessee High head coach Roby Witcher. “A lot of the people who follow Science Hill will be at the Arby’s anyway. They aren’t going to charter a flight to Hawaii.”
This year’s tournament does boast an impressive “outside” field, including defending Class AAA state champion Memphis Craigmont. The Chiefs return several key players from that team, including 6-6 senior Darius Gipson.
Also in the field is last year’s runner-up: Urspring from Ulm, Germany. The team returns Vanderbilt commitment Kevin Bright as well as it’s usual array of good size — including 6-8 and 6-9 players.
Action gets under way on Dec. 27 with Sevier County taking on Urspring, Greeneville battling Grand Bahamas Tabernacle Baptist, Gate City playing Greater Atlanta Christian, Hurley taking on Mentor, Ohio, Sullivan East matching up with Charlotte Christian, and Cherokee playing Craigmont.
Dyer said his team will be up against it when it faces Charlotte, as is usually the case in the Arby’s Classic.
“Pick your poison,” said Dyer with a laugh.
Joining the fray on Dec. 28 are Fort Myers, Fla., Nashville’s Christ Presbyterian Academy, Columbia (S.C.) Irmo, and Christ School.
Games continue through Dec. 31 with the championship game set for 6:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
Witcher said it’s a good field.
“There was no draw that you would want,” said Witcher. “Overall the field is as tough as it can be.”
Session tickets are $8. Tournament passes cost $45. Tickets can be purchased at the Tennessee High athletic office and at Arby’s restaurants in Bristol.
Co-sponsors of the Arby’s Classic are Regions Bank and Appalachian Orthopaedics.