It seems every high school basketball coach has a favorite memory or funny story from spending time with his or her team over the holidays. With school out for two weeks, teams go out of town to play in tournaments, and unique or unusual things happen.
Two years ago, the Lovett boys arrived on Long Island in New York for the Wheatley Invitational shortly before a blizzard hit the area. There was so much snow that the school system shut down county vehicle transportation for a day, forcing the tournament to alter its schedule and play second-round games on Sunday.
Lovett coach Chuck Melito had to call the GHSA to obtain special permission to play on Sunday. “Dr. [Ralph] Swearngin said he would allow us to play as long as I promised to take the team out West the next year,” Melito said with a laugh.
At the same time in 2008, the Wesleyan girls played in a Phoenix tournament and flew back home with one fewer person. Wesleyan’s scorekeeper missed the flight, which worried the rest of the girls. The scorekeeper nearly had to stay in Arizona for Christmas, but was placed on a later flight.
When Milton’s David Boyd was coaching at Berkmar, he discovered the team was missing a baby-faced freshman player after a team meal. “Somebody on the bus yelled out ‘Where’ Alex?’” Boyd said. “We turned the bus around and he was standing by the curb very upset that we’d left him. He had, shall we say, an ‘extended’ bathroom stop.”
Roswell’s Ty Phillips was an assistant coach at Harrison when the team traveled to a Missouri tournament and dined at the original Lambert’s Cafe, billed as “The Only Home of Throwed Rolls.” The customers catch and eat rolls thrown to them by the servers.
“We thought it was strange that the players all went outside quickly after the meal,” Phillips recalled. “They had been stockpiling their rolls and, when the assistant coaches came out, we got nailed with the rolls in an ambush. I never knew rolls could be packed so tightly and hurt like that.”
Holiday tournaments also present opportunities to match up against high-profile players from other states. In 2005, Blessed Trinity lost in the championship game of the Holy Angels Christmas Tournament in Charlotte that was far from uneventful.
“Stephen Curry, currently of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, scored his 2,000th career point against us in that game,” Blessed Trinity coach Brian Marks said. “We played a box-and-one defense on Curry in the second half to slow him down. It worked until he pulled up from about 30 feet out and drained a 3-pointer to go over 2,000 career points.”
Wesleyan coach Skip Matherly had a similar experience in a 55-47 loss to North Carolina’s Christ School around four years ago. The winning team was led by the Miles and Mason Plumlee, brothers who played for Duke’s national championship team last season.
Coaches never know what they will get from the opposing team. When Buford’s Gene Durden coached at another school, he played against an Illinois team that scrambled at the last minute to get enough girls to go on the trip.
“We started to press like my teams do and, after around six turnovers, [the opposing coach] had one of his players sit on the floor and just quit playing, with her hands over her eyes,” Durden said. “I did not know what to do as a coach but we stopped the pressure and tried to help his player up and encourage her to play. It was a strange situation and, as a coach, I really did not know what to do.”
Now it’s YOUR turn. What is your favorite holiday memory watching or participating in high school sports? Please post below.