Brackets for the 2018 Lamar Holiday Tournament will be released on Monday and it remains one of the longest running events in Colorado. In our most recent Colorado Preps Magazine issue (November), John Contreras took a look at some of the history behind the tournament.
By John Contreras
The 55th edition of the Lamar Holiday Basketball Tournament, originally called the Lamar Christmas Tournament, will take place on Dec. 13-15, 2018 at the Lamar Community Building.
The iconic event is truly a one-of-a-kind tournament. It is a reunion of former players and fans. It is an event where special moments and memories have been created through the years.
In the history of the prestigious tournament, there have been only three sets of directors: Gary Peyton and Jerry Bates; Rick Akers and Dave Reyher; and present directors Sean Oquist and Chad DeBono.
The inaugural tournament was played in 1964 and was the dream of the late Gary Peyton, a longtime Lamar businessman and basketball official.
Peyton was interviewed by Dick Peecher during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Lamar tournament in 2013.
And Peyton brought those people to Lamar.
For the first few years, the tournament field featured four boys’ teams from bigger schools and four from the smaller schools.
Peyton set up a banquet at the Stagecoach Motel. He brought in speakers that created a great atmosphere.
“At that time only one school from our area made it to the state tournament, so we wanted to create something special for the kids in our area,” Peyton noted.
Bill Carnahan and Dr. Gib Sprout helped Peyton after the first year, later Dick Gearhart added some help to Peyton in the organization of the tournament.
“From almost the first year we made good money on the tournament. And from that first year, we were able to give money back to the schools,” said Peyton.
That tradition continues to this day, giving money, hundreds of dollars, back to the schools. This is an almost unheard-of-tradition anywhere else in the country, Peecher wrote in his article.
Jerry Bates, a lifetime Prowers County resident and veteran official of many sports, jumped on board to help Peyton in 1975.
It was during this year that the tournament changed with the advent of girls’ basketball.
Eight teams in the girl’s bracket were added that year, and the tournament doubled in size immediately.
Peyton and Bate ran the tournament through the early 90’s.
Changes were made over the years to make it an even better event.
“We changed charging admission for each session and made it a one-day price. People appreciated that I think,” Bates told Peecher. “We added seventh and eighth place games so that every team could get three games during the tournament.”
“I think the key to this tournament is that the format has not changed in 40 years really,” Bates continued. “The remodeling of the Lamar Community Building was just a great thing for us too. It updated us, gave us more locker room space, gave us a better look. The old stage was a nightmare. We were always worried about injury with that thing. It just made us so more sophisticated. ”
Peyton and Bates asked Lamar businessmen Rick Akers and Dave Reyher to think about taking over the direction of the tournament in the early 90’s.
They served a three-year transition period with Peyton and Bates before taking over.
“That first year we just kind of followed them around, saw how they were doing things,” explained Akers. “That second year we were helping with the scheduling, the meetings, the gatekeepers, the workers, the officials. We started helping with it all.”
“I think the beauty of this tournament is that it is really the same tournament as it was years ago,” said Akers at the time. “You can’t replace the memories made here. There are so many people with over 20 years of experience in helping make this tournament successful.”
The tournament couldn’t have become so successful without the help behind the scenes.
Many volunteers and some organizations have donated countless hours in helping with the gate and at the scorer’s table.
Local basketball officials and those from around the state were selected for the tournament.
“There are so many great stories about the Christmas Tournament, so many great memories about Mel Hendrickson and what he did here. It is just a wonderful reunion every year,” Akers said.
“It’s sentimental, but it’s time,” said Reyher. “With the tournament a classic event, it was our hope that Rick and I didn’t mess it up. This tournament has been a part of my life for a long time. It’s kind of tough to let it go.”
Reyher said every tournament was special but it was extra special when his children had the opportunity to play in the tournament. He also added that having his father Paul help with the tournament any way he could was also pretty neat.
Presently, Oquist and DeBono have been running the show now for 11 and 10 years respectively.
“We’ve put our stamp on a few different things since we took over, but basically it was a turn key operation,” said Oquist. “This is a special event and it wouldn’t be so successful without the support of the many volunteers that make it go.”
DeBono had the opportunity of playing in the Lamar Holiday Tournament during his high school days at Granada under coach Manuel Gonzales who is still coaching to this day.
The last year he played in this tournament was in 1990 and he said he has a lot of fond memories.
“It was a tournament that our players looked forward to playing in and I hope the kids today feel the same way,” DeBono said. “This is such a great tournament and there’s a lot of pride, tradition, and history. It’s been an honor to be involved in this capacity and give back to the community.”
Oquist and DeBono have made their own subtle changes as well.
Another change came in 2013 when the starting time for the first games were pushed back from 10 a.m. to 9 a.m. to prevent getting out of the tournament so late on Thursday and Friday nights.
A highlight during the tournament is the presentation of the Melvin Hendrickson Award.
Melvin was a special child with special needs. He grew up loving sports of any kind and attended most all athletic events.
His presence was always felt at the Lamar Christmas Tournament with is jovial enthusiastic spirt as he volunteered for many tasks.
Peyton and Bates asked Mel to become the chief floor sweeper for the court which he approached 100 percent. His floor sweeping was an orchestration as he moved with the music and hand danced with the broom handle.
Mel passed away on July 5, 1980 at the age of 31 years. His funeral was held at the Lamar Community Building as so many people in the city and in the valley attended.
The award honors the memory of Mel, who was an example of sportsmanship, determination, and one who has an unconditional love for the athletes, competitors, and the game.
During the 50th anniversary of tournament, rather than award a Mel Hendrickson winner, Oquist and DeBono acknowledged each of the former Mel winners over the years.
It was well attended by those past winners.
A special T-shirt was also designed to commemorate the 50th edition of the tournament and was available to not only the players and coach but to the fans.
Other than the state tournament, the Lamar tournament is probably the biggest highlight of the season for the area teams and players who participate.
Kevin Shaffer of Colorado Preps, who specializes and knows high school sports across our state, gave the tournament high praise.
“Except for the state basketball tournament, the Lamar Holiday Tournament is the best tournament in the state of Colorado,” he said. “We (Colorado Preps) circle that event each year when the new sports schedules come out.”
The history of teams that competed in the championship games through the course of the tournament is undeniable.
The Granada boys’ program and the McClave girls’ program were the first to win a record four straight championships in the Lamar tournament.
The Granada Bobcats achieved that distinction from 1968 to 1971 while the McClave Lady Cardinals captured tournament titles from 2002 to 2005.
Peecher was the head coach of those winning teams for McClave during the 2000’s.
“I was an assistant for five years at McClave, before I assumed the head coaching job for girls’ basketball in 2000-2001,” he said. “I was the head coach during all those championships during the 2000’s.”
The Lamar Holiday Tournament has become somewhat of a preview of teams that eventually go on to do well in the state tournament.
Peecher guided the Lady Cardinals to the state championship in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009. McClave was also the state runner-up in 2002 and 2003 and finished third at state in 2001 and 2008.
In his 10 years as the head coach at McClave, Peecher’s coaching record was an astounding 242 wins and only 22 losses.
Peecher continues to serve as a basketball official and has been a staple at the Lamar tournament. He also is an umpire for baseball and softball.
“I have been officiating since 1981 and I believe my first appearance as an official was 1982 at the Lamar Holiday Tournament,” he recalled. “I officiated there every year except two years when they decided that coaches probably shouldn’t officiate.”
In last year’s 2017 tournament, the Kit Carson girls’ program and Holly boys’ program joined the elite list of teams to win four consecutive Lamar tournament titles.
Sara Crawford heads into her 15th season as the head coach of Kit Carson girls’ program while the Holly boys’ program has been under the guidance of Dusty Heck who enters his fifth year.
Crawford guided the Lady Wildcats to back-to-back Class 1A state crowns the past two seasons.
The Holly Wildcats won a pair of Class 1A state championships in 2014 and 2016 and took third place in 2015.
Kit Carson and Holly will be the teams to watch as they chase history in the 2018 tournament as they look to become the first schools to win five Lamar tournament championships in a row.
Looking back at some of the history in the girls’ division, McClave has made 17 appearances in the championship game and won eight. The Lady Cardinals last Lamar title came in 2009.
Granada girls’ teams have played in the championship game on 11 occasions and won seven titles. The Lady Bobcats played in eight straight championship games from 1992 to 1999 (which was the last year they won the Lamar tournament).
The Eads girls reached the championship game in the Lamar Classic seven times and won four with the last coming in 2011.
On the boys’ side, Granada has made a total of 24 appearances in the tournament championship game and won 15 times. The Bobcats last won back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008.
Kim played in the championship game a total of 10 times and won eight. The Mustangs won three in row from 1994 to 1996 and won their last title over Granada in 1998.
There’s been some outstanding players display their talents on the floor of the Lamar Community Building and some classic battles have been played.
On the final day of the tournament, the Lamar Community Building is always packed to the rafters for Championship Saturday.
“I have said many times that the Lamar Holiday Tournament is one of the premier tournaments in the state of Colorado,” Peecher said. “The size of the crowds, the quality of the competition, and the level of play are unmatched anywhere in Colorado, big schools or small schools. It is why Kevin Shaffer, head of Colorado Preps, attends every year.”
With that said, it will soon be time to settle in your seats for three days of wall to wall basketball action when the curtain rises for the 2018 Lamar Holiday Tournament.