A first girls' bracket will highlight this weekend's Fourth Annual Copper State Jam youth basketball tournament.
According to tournament director Steve Rensch, the Jam has added a 16-team girls' shoot-out that has drawn the Rim Country Middle School eighth-graders.
"The girls have asked for a tournament every year. The problem (of not having one) was raising money," he said.
This year, tournament organizers were finally able to generate the money to fund the girl's bracket, Rensch said.
The fray will also feature a small school tournament (less than 300 students) and another for the larger schools. Both have attracted 16 teams.
With 48 youth teams in Payson, Rensch expects the community will turn into a hotbed of hoop play.
The girls tournament will be played in the Tonto Apache gym beginning at 10 a.m. Friday. Games will continue until about 10:30 p.m.
Saturday, games will begin at 9 a.m. and continue to 10:30 p.m.
Sunday, games will be from 8:30 a.m. until the championship finale at 4 p.m.
Minutes prior to the gold-medal showdown, renowned trumpeter Jesse McGuire will play the national anthem. Sports fans remember McGuire as the musician who played the national anthem last fall before World Series games at the Diamondbacks' Bank One Ballpark.
The RCMS girls, 1-0 this season, opens the tournament at noon Friday against Kayenta Community School.
The boys tournament
Like the 2001 tournament, all boys games will be played in Wilson Dome, the old high school gymnasium and Rim Country Middle School gym.
Games begin at 4 p.m. Friday and continue until about 10:30 p.m.
Play on Saturday is from 9 a.m. until 10:30 p.m.
After an 8 a.m. start Sunday, the tournament will be highlighted by the small school championship at 2 p.m. The large school finale is slated for 3:30 p.m.
McGuire will be on hand to play the national anthem prior to the small school showdown, as well.
The RCMS eighth-grade team will not participate in the Jam as it has in past years. Instead, it has entered a White Mountain League tournament in Snowflake that same weekend. Last year, the Maverick eighth-graders finished 2-2 in the tournament.
The RCMS seventh-grade squad is entered in the small school bracket.
The seventh-graders open the tournament at 6 p.m. Friday in the old high school gymnasium against Superior.
Tonto Village Shelby School, which is also entered in the small school tournament, begins play at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the old gym against Tucson Apache.
The Shelby Iguanas, coached by Rensch, are fresh off winning the championship of a Prescott tournament and a 32-27 win over the RCMS eighth-graders. In 2001 Jam, the Iguanas finished 2-2.
In the small school division, Rensch has tabbed Tucson Casa Christian and Peoria Alta Loma as favorites.
Sanders returns to small school play as last year's runner-up.
"Sanders could have won each of the last two years, but had to climb through the loser's bracket," Rensch said.
In the big school division, Tucson Tortolita has made a run at the championship the past three years, but has yet to claim the crown. Tucson Booth Fickett enters with a bit of revenge on its mind, having advanced to the championship last year only to lose a 51-50 thriller in overtime to Phoenix Desert Foothills.
Also expected to challenge for honors are Kayenta, Tuba City, Las Vegas Von Tobel, Nogales Carpenter, Page and Chooshgai, N.M.
With an array of talented teams from a three-state area participating, Rensch is anticipating the fray will turn into a basketball fan's delight.
"I expect this to be the most fun tournament of the three (previous Jams)," he said.
In its three years of existence, the Jam has built a reputation for giving out some of the most lavish awards of any junior high/middle school tournament in the state.
This year should be no different.
Original trophies will be award to the first-, second- and third-place teams as well as the three most valuable players as selected by a panel of judges. MVPs receive patches for their jackets.
Players on the three championship teams receive individual medallions.
At the conclusion of play, the judges will select a 10-member all-star team from each bracket. Those stars will be awarded custom, embroidered jackets.
Among the local players to earn all-star recognition in the past were Mike Barr, Dallas Rensch, Harper Kamp, Jeff Mulcahey and Donnie Wilbanks.
A team sportsmanship trophy is also awarded. In 2001, small school third-place finisher Superior won the sportsmanship title.
All players receive souvenir T-shirts, as well.
As founder and tournament director, Rensch has issued a stern warning that he expects the fray to be conducted in an atmosphere of good sportsmanship.
"Our refs will be instructed to hit flagrant or abusive conduct quickly, whether it's from players, coaches or fans," he said.
In addition to three days of almost nonstop play, the tournament will feature other activities including foosball, table tennis and chess. Food and concession stands will be open at all four gyms.
Admission is $3 per day. Children 8 years and under are admitted free of charge.
Last year, Rensch donated $1,450 of the proceeds to local schools and sports programs.
Payson High received $750, RCMS picked up $500 and the Payson Hot Shot girls basketball team was awarded $200.
The money could be used as seen fit, but Rensch asked, it "be used in the spirit of the Jam's theme of honoring the excellence in children."