The commitment of five student athletes to basketball and academic excellence has led them to an adventure of a lifetime.
The players -- Christina Deaton, Cydney Figueroa, Kayla O'Donnell, Jenna Robertson and Marquel Waterman -- have been invited to participate in the Tourney Sport USA -- a national championship basketball tournament for eighth, ninth and 10th grade girls July 11 to July 19 in Oahu, Hawaii.
"Because of your success as a student and a basketball player, the coach (who) nominated you (Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade coach Carol Hayes) felt you deserved national basketball recognition for your age group and to compete against the best basketball players from all across America," wrote Tourney Sport USA president Aaron Alteneder.
The national tournament is an inaugural hardwood fray that Alteneder described as a "very rare and unique event; one you will not want to miss ... the best basketball talent from 48 states have been invited."
For O'Donnell, the opportunity to travel to Hawaii to play her favorite sport is the stuff of which dreams are made.
"I'm so excited because I will get to share this with my closest friends and teammates," she said. "Living in Payson, we didn't think anything like this could ever happen to us."
The tournament format will allow the five Payson girls, members of the RCMS eighth-grade team last season, to participate on their grade level.
"We will be offering separate tournaments, ensuring the athletes do not have to play ‘up or down' which is often the case for this age level," Alteneder said.
Upon arriving in Oahu, players will be assigned to a team that will participate first in pool play rounds. Following pool play, the teams will be realigned according to their pool records and seeded into a medal round.
The tournament will also feature several individual skills contests including a national shooting match.
While on the island of Oahu, the all-stars will stay for nine days on world famous Waikiki Beach. The tournament location has not yet been selected, but past tournaments have been contested on the campus of Brigham Young University-Hawaii, located on the North Shore of Oahu.
In the past seven years, Tourney Sport USA has taken more than 3,000 student athletes from all 50 states and Canada to Hawaii in multiple sports.
Tourney Sports also hosts tournaments in softball, swimming, baseball, volleyball, soccer, tennis, golf and football.
According to Alteneder, Tourney Sport USA's goal is "to provide quality student athletes with a unique once-in-a-lifetime cultural and athletic experience unavailable anywhere else at any other time in their life."
The five Payson invitees have been playing together since they were in fifth grade. As seventh-graders at Rim Country Middle School they formed the nucleus of an undefeated White Mountain League championship team.
As eighth-graders, the Maverick squad dominated WML play until the final game of the regular season when the team lost a one-point heartbreaker to the Whiteriver Roughriders.
In the WML postseason tournament, the Lady Mavs rebounded from the loss to handily defeat the Roughriders and win the league championship.
In Superstar Basketball Tournaments held last spring in Camp Verde and Payson, the teens played their way to third place in both frays. During their two years at RCMS, the team built a reputation as one of the finest groups of basketball players to pass through the school. Their spirited play and talent has Lady Longhorn coach Rory Huff excitedly waiting their arrival next year at Payson High School.
"There are two or three of those girls who could battle for varsity positions next season," Huff said.
Funding the trip
To participate in the championship basketball tournament, the teens must raise $1,870 each to pay their expenses, which include meals, uniform, awards dinner banquet and lodging.
The five teens said they are committed to earning the money through a series of fund-raisers that are still in the planning stages.
For donors who would like to help the girls make the trip, an account has been set up at the Payson office of SAFE Q. To donate, ask for the "Eighth Grade Girls Hawaii Classic, No. 8929090."
The girls are also willing to do odd jobs to help earn money. For more information, call Deniese O'Donnell, (928) 978-0477, Melodi Deaton (928) 970-0790 or Janelle Figueroa (928) 978-6109.