McDonald’s Invitational High School Basketball Classicby Phil Jones
|Tift County High School hosted the first annual McDonald’s Invitational High School Basketball Classic on December 28-30, 2010. During the three-day event, 21 teams from Georgia high schools competed in a round-robin format totaling 24 games.
Thirteen boys teams participated, including North Georgia programs Whitefield Academy, South Atlanta, Buford, Central Gwinnett and Collins Hill. South Georgia competitors included teams from Cook, Crisp County, Terrell County, Lowndes, Valdosta, Wilcox County, Thomas County Central and Tift County. On the girls’ side, eight South Georgia teams participated, including Cook, Crisp County, Terrell County, Turner County, Cairo, Lowndes, Bainbridge and Tift County.
The top boys teams were Terrell County, South Atlanta and Whitefield Academy, all of which finished undefeated with 2-0 records. Collins Hill also notched two wins in the tournament but suffered one loss. The Valdosta boys took advantage of the one game they played, defeating Buford. Thomas County Central and Cook finished 1-1, while Buford, Crisp County, Central Gwinnett and Lowndes finished with 1-2 records. Wilcox County lost its one game to finish 0-1, and host Tift County had a rough tournament, losing three games.
The top two Region 1-AAAAA girls teams, Lowndes and Tift County, enjoyed successful tournament runs. Lowndes finished undefeated, winning three games, while coach Julie Connor’s Lady Devils managed a 2-1 result. Cook, Turner County and Bainbridge each split to finish with 1-1 records. Crisp County posted a 1-2 result while Terrell County returned to Dawson with two losses.
It was the first time in school history that Tift County High hosted a Christmas tournament, and Blue Devils coach Eric Holland led the charge. "I approached Coach [Julie] Connor back at the first of the year about us actually hosting a holiday tournament rather than go on the road as we had always done in past seasons," says Holland. "Holiday tournaments are usually hosted by schools with a great basketball tradition, and Tift certainly fell into that category." Holland then met with TCHS principal, Dr. Willie Miles, to discuss potential sponsors. When local McDonald’s owner-operator Wendell Morgan became involved, the first annual McDonald’s Invitational Tournament was conceived.
According to Morgan, the idea of sponsoring the event fit perfectly into the marketing strategies of McDonald’s. "We want to be a part of the local high school sports landscape, and we're committed to having the McDonald’s
brand synonymous with high school sports. When Dr. Miles and Coach Holland reached out to us, we embraced the idea wholeheartedly." Another factor in Morgan’s decision to sponsor the tournament was that it would provide not only the participating athletes with an option for staying active during the holiday, but it would also give students and fans a place to go. "I really liked the idea of having a place where, for three days, the students could go, meet their friends and hang out all day if they wanted to, while enjoying some great basketball. Sometimes they don't really have anything to do or anywhere to go, and that can lead to kids getting into trouble, in some cases."
Reflecting on the three-day tournament, McDonald’s Chief Executive Assistant Joyce Morgan Danforth could not have been happier. "It really exceeded our expectations. Our stores responded well, providing solid service to the hundreds of students, athletes, and the fans and parents who came to eat. It was a great community effort in bringing the tournament to Tifton, and I want to especially thank the Tip-Off Clubs from Tift County and Cook, Ms. Thomas (Adel McDonald’s), and everyone at Tift County High School, especially Dr. Miles. Without their help and support, this event would have never happened.”
One lucky fan in attendance at the final game of the tournament between Tift County and Collins Hill walked away with a pair of very special Nike basketball sneakers belonging to Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant. The shoes were actually worn by Bryant during last year's championship series against the Celtics. The shoe giveaway was coordinated and sponsored by In The Game High School Sports Magazine.
While this year's tournament is over, a tradition has begun. According to Danforth and Morgan, next year's tournament has already been approved and budgeted, and plans are being made to accommodate more teams. Be sure to check upcoming editions of In The Game for further details. •