In the past 50 years the Crescent City Jaycees 8th-grade Basketball Tournament has grown from being a small tournament with about 16 teams into a massive 56-team tournament basketball players will never forget.
“College guys have March Madness, pros have the NBA Tournament; this is their version of March Madness,” said retired coach and principal John Berry, who brought teams from Kelseyville to the Jaycees tournament for the 33 years he coached. “After all my years in Kelseyville, I had players come back as a 25-year-old or 32-year-old, introduce me to their wife and kids, and this was an everlasting memory for them.”
Redwood Red head coach Blake Lopez still remembers winning the consolation championship in the A-1 division with Redwood as an eighth-grader in 1999.
“That is one of the highlights of a kid’s life,” Lopez said. “I still have my all-tourney medals and all the awards. I had one of the games of my life in this Jaycees Tournament. As an eighth-grade basketball player, not everybody is going to move up into high school and make the teams. It is a huge experience for the kids.”
Although most teams attend several tournaments throughout the season, as well as compe in league games, Berry said the Jaycees Tournament is the one his teams always circled on their calendar at the beginning of the year.
“When I used to coach, on the first day of practice, our goal was to get to Crescent City,” Berry said. “It’s no different than when Duke has practice in October with the goal of getting to the NCAA Tournament. You might win your league, you might not, but you’d give the whole thing up to come up here.”
With 56 teams, the Jaycees Tournament is about twice as large as even the biggest middle school basketball tournaments — but the competition in Crescent City includes the entire student body.
In addition to 84 basketball games in the two-day tournament, the Jaycees also host a cheerleading, princess and mascot competitions and a poster contest. That gives students who choose not to play basketball different opportunities to participate.
That friendly and welcoming atmosphere is credited with helping the tournament grow from just two brackets in 1968 into the seven-bracket event today.
“The scope is greater,” Berry said, comparing his first tournament experience in 1980 to the 2018 competition this weekend. “It used to be almost like a North Coast and Southwestern Oregon tournament. Now there are more teams from Redding, or from Clear Lake, some Sonoma County schools, and others. So the scope is greater, and I think that is because the word is out. This is a neat experience. Plus the town is geared for it. You have so many gyms, you have the hotels, the kids can go to Ocean World; Crescent City really does roll out the red carpet for these guys.”
“The Jaycees have really worked hard,” Quick said. “To put this on for 50 years is incredible. Back when it started, there was only two divisions, and they worked hard to get it to seven divisions. Arman Gunnerson started the whole thing, and when he passed away, his shoes were really hard to fill. But the Jaycees have done a really good job trying to carry this on. They really deserve a lot of credit.”
Gunnerson, widely regarded as the godfather of the tournament, is remembered fondly each year with the tournament’s top overall honor — the Arman Gunnerson Sportsmanship Award.
This year Big Springs, a long-time Jaycees Tournament participant, won its first ever sportsmanship award.
The Azalea Bruins eighth-grade basketball team was in the AA bracket of the tournament this year, first playing Middletown and taking a close win. They went on to play Cloverdale in their second match the next day, where they took a narrow loss at 41-40 after a last-minute bucket put Cloverdale ahead. Later that evening, they played Terrace for a solid win, concluding the tournament on a high note.
“Everyone was involved in scoring a bucket or getting the ball to someone who could score,” said Azalea coach Jason Fulton. “I was really proud of the kids this weekend, especially our defense. We held everyone we played to around 40 points compared to the 50, 60 and 70 point games. We worked really hard and really put in the work this year.”