Rim country basketball fans will soon have a pair of opportunities to enjoy top-notch play from some of the finest fledgling players in the state.
The 2000 Copper State Jam Middle School Basketball Tournaments will be held in the Tonto Apache gymnasium Jan. 21 through 23 and again Feb. 4 through 6.
The first tournament will feature teams representing schools with enrollments of less than 300.
The second tournament is open, but the field will probably include mostly big school teams many from Tucson and Phoenix.
The inaugural Jam was contested last year under the direction of Steve and Marlow Rensch.
As coaches of the Shelby School team, the two say it had been their experience that basketball was an excellent medium for youngsters to learn the virtues of competition and to form relationships with players outside their own schools -- "kids they would normally never get to know," Steve says.
The two decided to create a basketball tournament that would get by the "us vs. them" mentality that dominates sports.
They wanted to create a feeling of family among the young players.
So, the Rensches put together a quality tournament conducted in a spirit of camaraderie.
After watching last year's tournament, I wrote in this column that everything about the Jam was up a notch over what is usually doled out at middle and junior high school athletic events. The prizes and awards given out were fine enough to leave college athletes drooling.
Also, I wrote that the tournament turnedout to be more than just basketball. It was a type of cultural awareness in which small-town mostly-Anglo boys mingled with Hispanic and African American city-bred youngsters. Throw into the mix American Indians from the likes of Kayenta and Kaibieto and you had a real melting pot as our forefathers intended.
This year's tournament is expected to be more of a good thing, with plenty for players and their families to enjoy. A large tent will be set up outside the gym where youngsters can participate in a variety of games. Good food from the same people who operate the Frozen Cow will be available for purchase.
Sports celebrities including former NBA stars Tom Chambers and Connie Hawkins will be on hand. Some Arizona Cardinals players are also expected to show up. Arizona State University defensive back Willie Daniels is scheduled to make his second successive appearance.
Last year, Daniels was a model of decorum for the many teenagers, talking to each one of them about anything of interest.
This year, the Rensches have enlisted the sponsorship of Powerade to help make the tournament even bigger and better.
Admission to the gymnasium is $3 per day for adults and $1 per day for children. Admission to the grounds is free.