Christopher Wuensch, Staff Writer ext. 112, CWuensch@ExplorerNews.com
Jan. 4, 2006 - Oakland, New Jersey; 20 degrees colder than that in Solon, Iowa. And I'm nowhere near them.
From where I sit, it's 74 degrees in Southern Arizona. And still, I spent the week indoors.
After finally acknowledging that football is essentially over, I needed something to spark some hoops hysteria. I found it 10 minutes into my first game of the Santa Cruz Shootout in a first-round match up between Canyon Del Oro and Catalina Foothills high schools.
You could tell by his pursed lips that a smile wanted to break out on Tyler Grigsby's face when the Catalina Foothills fans began to heckle him from the stands at Ironwood Ridge High School. They chanted the senior's name relentlessly, trying to knock the smooth passing point guard off his game.
I'm not an advocate for mercilessly ridiculing high school kids, but Grigsby's treatment, courtesy of the Foothills faithful, was a testament to the passion the sport (and a tournament of this caliber) is capable of producing.
Those same fans - dressed in blue shirts and acting like a gaggle of rowdy Smurfs - could be found throughout the week with clever chants, wild rants and even a spell where they crowd surfed one of their own.
There was plenty of action for the more subdued fan as well. Thirty-seven games in four days; a work-week's worth of hoops heaven.
It's a week so fiendishly resplendent, that it conjures memories of days long gone growing up in New Jersey and ditching school to go New York Yankee games or sneaking off between classes to watch March Madness on the TV hidden in my locker.
Thirty-seven games crammed into a week means four days of lunches consisting of nothing more than a bowl of nachos and a soda, countless trips back and forth between the school's two gyms and 37 Star Spangled Banners, not to mention several Canadian National Anthems.
Four teams - two girls and two boys squads - from Canada came down from the frozen north to take part in the hoops festivities again this year. It cost the Canadian players $1,100 each to come to the Tucson metro area, but from talking to them, the trip is worth it, even if it's just a chance to shed the mittens for a few days.
They aren't the only ones enjoying the week. The stands are littered with coaches and players from different sports, some sticking around for hours, and others catching a game on their "extended lunch breaks."
Mountain View High School coach Mike Dyer is among those who share the passion of the game. The freshman boy's coach - and former Marana High School girl's varsity coach - could be found at both the Santa Cruz Shootout and in the stands of the Flowing Wells Shootout. After watching the CDO girls erase a 15-point deficit to win a game, the Hall of Fame coach simply said with a giant smile on his face, "I love this."
You instantly begin to understand how he won nearly 400 games as a coach for Marana.
But the fun for Dyer and that of the hundreds of hoops fans that flocked to the Oro Valley school is in danger of going the way of dinosaurs, the Dodo bird and short basketball shorts.
School administration is balking at bringing the 13-year-old tourney back to Ironwood Ridge. Pueblo High School is the main site for the tourney, but with more than 30 teams competing, a secondary site has always been necessary. Ironwood Ridge has been the auxiliary site for the last four years and has had moderate-to-pretty-good success in its hosting duties.
The school makes enough money to cover its costs with a little left over. In the past, the tourney has generated enough money to buy new backboards for the gym.
School administrators are hesitant about bringing the tourney back due to the timing of the tournament over the holiday break.
"We have to have a say when the dates of the tournament and things like that are because we have to build a fit schedule," said Ironwood Ridge athletic director Mike Brown, "because as of right now, it doesn't fit."
Ironwood Ridge principal Sam McClung added that the timing of the tourney was done in the 11th hour, which forced the administration to scramble to get the dates covered.
Under the new rules, one of the four administrators must be present at the school at all times during an event. In years past, Ironwood Ridge would hire an outside source to supervise its major tourneys. With four administrators and four tourney days, the quartet divided their time to an admin a day.
The revision in the supervision rules comes in the wake of a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed against TUSD by the parents of Joe Kay, the former Tucson High School senior who suffered a massive stroke when the crowd charged the floor after a basketball game in February of 2004.
This doesn't mean the days of the tourney at Ironwood Ridge are over, but Brown has given Pueblo High School the green light to choose another site should the dates match up better for another school.
Brown said Ironwood Ridge is on the forefront of hosting tournaments, offering to host everything from regional to state meets and games.
In the four years of hosting the Santa Cruz Shootout, there have never been any problems except for no hot water for the referees to shower. Most coaches will tell you referees don't need hot water anyway.
Those who work closely with the tournament are hopeful an agreement can be arranged to keep the tourney at Ironwood Ridge. Should it be forced to relocate, the tourney will likely find a home at Cholla or Catalina high schools, schools that have hosted the games before Ironwood Ridge came along.
If the shootout doesn't return to Ironwood Ridge, the traveling circus of hoop-heads like me will need to double dribble our act on the road where it's OK to travel.