As they've done since the inception of the Copper State Jam three years ago, Steve and Marlow Rensch and friends at Shelby School put on a tremendous middle school/junior high basketball tournament.
Held last weekend in the three gymnasiums at Payson High and Rim Country Middle School, the tournament attracted teams from around Arizona and one from Las Vegas, Nev.
The Rensches conducted the tournament in two brackets one for large schools and the other for smaller schools with student populations less than 300. The bracketing gave every team an equal opportunity to win.
During the three days of play, the tournament went off mostly without a hitch.
The entire affair was one of the finest junior high/middle school tournaments I have witnessed.
When it came time for the awarding of prizes, the winning teams, most valuable players and all-stars were given a bevy of trophies, jackets and medals that would swell the chest of collegiate players.
The entire affair was simply first class.
Also, the tournament afforded aspiring young athletes the opportunity to participate in constructive activities at a time in their lives when they are being tugged in many different directions. If not in the gym, some teens might be prone to getting into trouble.
It's basketball tournaments like the one the Rensches sponsor that help positively mold the lives of our teenagers.
The only possible thing the Rensches could do to improve the tournament is to include a bracket for girls.
I was approached by several middle school girls during one of the games who wanted to be out there playing.
I agree, and I'll bet so do the tournament sponsors.
But for the tournament to expand, the sponsors need loads of help before next year's Jam rolls around. Our community has a reputation of stepping up when the needs of our young people are a stake.
Maybe it's time we all get behind the Copper State Jam and help it continue to be one of the premier sporting events in the Rim country.
Speaking of middle school basketball
While coaching high school football in Show Low in the early 1980s, I also coached eighth-grade boys basketball at Show Low Junior High School.
In 1982-83, our team finished 25-0, won the White Mountain League championship, and were the unofficial Arizona State Junior High champions.
I was extremely proud of that group. That year, upon learning of the 14th Annual Junior Prep International Tournament to be held that spring in North Phoenix and Phoenix Union High School gymnasiums, I ambitiously entered our SLJHS team.
I knew there would be plenty of formidable teams from around the country entered in the 14-years-and-under division. I was willing to put my undefeated team to the hearty test of national competition.
A week after sending in the entry forms, I received the surprise of my life when I opened the school mail and glanced at the bracketing. For the first round, it read, "Show Low Jr. High vs. New York City."
That's the truth.
Goodness, I thought, what have I done?
Tiny Show Low was paired against a New York all-star team sponsored by the city's Riverside Church.
Entering Phoenix Union gym hours before our first round game, my team of lily white, mountain boys mostly of the Mormon faith, spied their counterparts entering another door.
New York was a team made up entirely of African American players decked out in the latest Nike sportswear complete with gold chains draped around most of their body parts.
The city boys were also outfitted with the latest and newest, state of the art Nike sneakers and toted personalized traveling bags.
Standing in our canvas Chuck Taylor Converses and clinging to our tattered backpacks, we stared in disbelief.
Seconds after tip-off, we took the lead and I quickly yelled to my wife, Kay, to grab the camera and take a picture of the scoreboard.
Show Low 4
New York City 3
Needless to say, it didn't take long for the tall and talented Yorksters to erase our lead and go on to a double-digit win.
By the time the tournament ended, our record was 25-3. But we gave good accountings of ourselves in close losses to Bakersfield, Calif. and Albuquerque, N.M.
Every once in a while, I visit with some of the players of that Show Low Junior High team. The greeting is usually the same:
"Coach, remember when Show Low played New York City?"
Oh yes, I remember.