The Holiday Hoops girls basketball tournament will return to its full glory this season.
The tournament is to be held Dec. 28 and 29 in Wilson Dome and the old Payson High School gymnasium.
Holiday Hoops had been a Christmas vacation favorite for fans, coaches and players since former Lady Horn coach Jerry Daniels founded it in the mid 1990s.
Its popularity was partly due to it drawing some of the finest teams in the state regardless of school size classification.
During some tournaments, it snowed in Payson which delighted players from the Valley desert who seemed to enjoy snow play almost as much as basketball.
Last year the tournament fell by the wayside when only an abbreviated form of it was held. Also it was not played during the Christmas vacation as it had been, but rather moved to Dec. 12 and 13.
School officials say the tournament was changed in 2008 to allow former coach Stacy Anderson to spend the holidays with her out-of-state family.
The format was also altered — instead of the 16 teams that traditionally competed, the field was reduced to six schools.
Most all fans and boosters agreed last year’s edition of Holiday Hoops did not have the same flavor, intensity and fiery competition it had featured since its inception.
This season, first-year PHS coach Kelly Krieg is set on rebuilding the tournament by holding it again during the school’s holiday break and once again attracting 16 teams.
PHS athletic director Jason Lobik says 15 schools have committed to participate and he is in the process of scouring the state for one final entrant to round out the field.
The return of the tournament to its original format will result in fans and boosters once again having the opportunity to enjoy fine holiday sports entertainment.
The fray also gives prep teams from around Arizona, including Payson, the opportunity to compete against teams they might not meet during the course of the regular season or in the playoffs.
Among my favorite memories of the Holiday Hoops was the 2006 tournament when Rory Huff coached the Lady Horns and Danielle O’Haver was a three-point shooting specialist that wowed the crowds with her accuracy. She ended up making the all-tournament team and later set school records for three-pointers.
Although O’Haver and her teammates entered the holiday shoot-out as defending champs, they relinquished the crown to Desert Mountain, which beat Gilbert in the finale.
A real plus for the tournament that year was that it earned more than $3,000 for the basketball program.
At the time, Huff called the cash, “money we really needed.”
A year earlier, the Lady Horns put on one of the most amazing rallies in the history of the program defeating Tempe McClintock 48-45 after trailing 18-5 to start the second quarter.
Huff called the 2005 tournament “the toughest ever” with teams like Higley, Gilbert, Desert Mountain, Mesa Westwood, Tuba City and Tucson Catalina competing.
For that tournament, Huff’s daughter — Haylee — earned Most Valuable Player honors.
In 2003, the Lady Horns — under former coach Shawn Hardt — turned in an outstanding tournament performance but finished second, falling in the championship game to two-time defending state champion Tuba City.
Also that year, former PHS baseball coach and town recreation leader Teddy Pettet served as tournament director.
In 2000, the Lady Horns, led by current PHS assistant coach Jennifer Plumb, were again second.
The tournament also showcased other of Payson’s finest players including Sidney Swartwood and Ashli Herrera.
In 1998, the terrific trio of Stephanie Robertson, Rheanna Martinez and Swartwood were among the finest players on the Holiday Hoops court.
The memories and recollections of the tournament go on and on.
It’s obvious, Holiday Hoops has had a rich history on the Payson sports scene and it’s a thrill for all to have it return as one of the state’s finest holiday athletic events.