A writer recently suggested districts eliminate basketball tournaments but I couldn’t disagree more, writes Ken Moeller.
Last week I read a letter in the Post Register that left me a bit puzzled. The author was complaining about high school basketball specifically, and the waste of time he felt district tournaments are. He felt we should just send the top two teams after the regular season to the state tournament. No need to waste time allowing some underdog who manages to peak at the right time win, only to get clobbered at state.
I couldn’t disagree more. Isn’t the possibility of an upset, of some team surpassing all expectations and rising to the top, what makes “March Madness” so special?
My sophomore year at South Fremont High School (go Cougars) was just such a pleasant surprise. After a rare state playoff berth in football (a thrilling 17-14 overtime loss to Preston) and a district title in wrestling, the early spring of 1980 brought even greater excitement to the community of St. Anthony, Idaho.
Our basketball team struggled to an 11-9 finish, after a 7-2 start. We were seeded fifth at the district tournament, behind Northeast Conference foes Madison, Rigby, Shelley and Salmon. The tournament was held at the Hart Gym on the campus of Ricks College.
I can still see the players on that team, still my heroes 38 years later. Tracy Orr, Russ Jensen, John Weaver, David Hobbs, Garth Gardner. Our coach was Gary Buell, who went on to win a few games here in Idaho Falls. I lived and breathed every minute of the drama to come from my seat with the pep band.
Our upset of Madison in the opening game still has to rate as one of the great wins in South Fremont history. Tracy Orr poured in 32 points, and we came from behind to win 59-56. The thrill of that win, over a great Madison team, is still etched in my mind.
Somehow we followed up with a 55-54 win over Shelley, again coming from behind in the 4th quarter. Finally, we held off Madison in the championship game 58-56. Against all odds, and possible complaint from non-underdog fans, we were on our way to the state tournament.
Reed Gym, on the Idaho State campus, played host to the A-2 Tournament. Trailing Payette by 7 with 40 seconds to go in the opener (this was before 3 point shots), we rallied to tie the game in regulation and finally won in double overtime, 70-69. Again Tracy Orr was the spark with his 27 points.
St. Maries brought a devastating full-court press with them to the semi-finals, and they wore us down to the tune of a 78-67 loss. We rebounded the following morning, beating Bishop Kelly for 3rd place, 67-59. John Weaver and Tracy Orr lit up the scoreboard with 24 and 23 points respectively. What a ride!
I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. Our team earned its way to the state tournament. Everything came together at the right time. Our school spirit and pride were sky high. A dream come true for a small town. Would you really feel comfortable denying that possibility to someone? Not me.
Moeller lives in Idaho Falls with his wife and three sons. He has taught and coached at Rocky Mountain Middle School since 1990.