Copper State A First-Rate Hardwood Jam

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Kudos to Steve Rensch and all those at Shelby School who helped put on the 1999 Copper State Jam basketball tournament held last weekend in the very nice Tonto Apache gymnasium.

The basketball tournament drew 16 middle and junior high school teams from around the state including Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, Gilbert, Clarkdale and the reservations of Northern Arizona.

Along with the teams came parents, grandparents and fans.

The tournament was a first-class affair the likes of which I never witnessed during over 20 years of coaching junior high school basketball in South Phoenix, Tempe and Show Low.

The games went on mostly without a hitch and sportsmanship was at a premium. Rensch brought in top-notch officials to help insure the games ran smoothly.

In some tournaments, the attitude is "so what, it's only junior high." Referees and officials can be parents pulled in out of the stands who have little knowledge of the game especially when applying it to athletes in their most formidable years.

Often those tournaments turn ugly.
Everything about the Jam was turned up a notch over what is usually doled out at middle and junior high school athletic events.

The prizes and awards would leave college athletes drooling.

The all-tournament team was awarded top-quality letterman-type jackets that sported the Jam's logo. Displayed near the front door of the gym, athlete after athlete paraded by the jackets silently wishing and hoping he would someday wear one.

The team trophies were hand-crafted originals made of copper.

Outside the busy gymnasium, there were large tents set up where visitors could partake of excellent foods or simply visit with one another.

Local basketball players from Rim Country Middle School and Shelby were able to see how basketball is played, almost as a religion, in South Phoenix's disadvantaged neighborhoods.

More than basketball, it was a type of cultural awareness in which small-town mostly-Anglo boys co-mingled with Hispanic and African American city-bred youngsters.

Throw into the mix, American Indians from the likes of Kayenta and Kaibeto and you have a real melting pot as our forefathers intended.

Having several pro and collegiate athletes on hand to intermix with the players rather make speeches at a distance also lent a nice touch to the tournament.

Former NBA All-Star and Phoenix Suns player Tom Chambers obligingly signed autographs most of Saturday morning. One of the more popular visiting athletes at the tournament was Arizona State University footballer Willie Daniel.

Willie answered question after question as if he was facing a media horde. "How fast do you run the 40?" "How much can you bench press?" and "What happened to Ryan Keely last year," were among them.

The questions went on and on as youngsters paraded after Willie as if he were the Pied Piper.

The tournament also looks as if it was well supported by the business community with more than 50 sponsors, including the Tonto Apache Tribe and Founders Bank.

In an eagerness to supply top-quality programs for high school youth, sometimes we tend to forget about the 13-14 and 15-year-old middle and junior high schoolers.

Steve Rensch and his friends didn't overlook them, and it was a great tournament.

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