By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
The Holiday Classic, set to begin Thursday at North Central Texas College, has reached its 25th year — and on Friday, one of its creators cited the basketball tournament’s genesis and enduring local impact.
Local historian Tom Carson said Sacred Heart High School head girls basketball coach Jon LeBrasseur approached him with “a seed of an idea” in 1988, two years after Carson had moved to Gainesville and taken management of KGAF Radio.
“I had lived in Gainesville before, and had always been a basketball fan,” Carson said, and added that he’d long felt the game lacked a strong presence in Cooke County. He said he quickly agreed with LeBrasseur’s suggestion: a high school-level tournament that brought together teams from Cooke County and beyond.
Carson, who had attended Gainesville’s Cooke County College, said the college campus seemed an ideal venue. In 1988, he collaborated with then college president Dr. Bud Joyner to turn the campus athletic fieldhouse into the game’s host site.
“I think for some of these families and some of these students, that was the first time they had ever been on any college campus for any reason,” Carson said Friday. “I like to think it introduced college to some of them. And from a selfish viewpoint? We always want to think we would like to do something for the institution that helped us out. And I like to look back and think that we did something for the college. I really do.”
The first tournament was held the last week of December 1988 at the campus, now North Central Texas College. Over the past 25 years, participating schools in the tournament have included Gainesville, Collinsville, Era, Lindsay, Muenster, Sacred Heart, Valley View, Callisburg, Chico, Marietta, Krum, Forestburg, Alvord, Saint Jo, Pilot Point, Nocona, Thackerville, Slidell, Howe, Blue Ridge, Denton, Sam Rayburn, Liberty Christian, Coram Deo Academy, Melissa and Fort Worth Trinity Valley.
“There have been thousands and thousands of kids who have played in the Holiday Classic,” Carson said. “Some of these kids are now in their forties and they still come back, and some even have kids who are playing in the Holiday Classic.”
In 1990, Holiday Classic organizers launched what would become a tradition: recognizing outstanding student-athletes in the tournament. The Classic’s Academic All-Star team includes senior boys and girls who have maintained a three-year high school average of 90 or higher. Each scholar-athlete receives a plaque recognizing him or her for their achievement. The award is sponsored by the Cooke County Bar Association.
Carson said the Holiday Classic is, to his knowledge, the first regional athletic event to pay special recognition to athletes who also excel in academics.
And to excel as an athlete, he said Friday, is to gain a special advantage in life.
“It gives individuals the ability to work successfully in a business team or work as a teammate in a work environment,” Carson said. “I think athletics is very good at teaching people the concepts of teamwork, of sportsmanship, of the ups and downs with the triumphs of winning and the disappointment of losing, and getting support from your teammates.
“I think a lot of the time, what happens to you in life was introduced early on to you. On a field.”
This year’s Classic
For this 25th anniversary edition of the Holiday Classic, LeBrasseur will once again be on the sideline as his Sacred Heart Tigerettes play at the tournament, and Carson will broadcast games for Nortex Communications. The two championship games will also be broadcast on KGAF, 1580 AM.
This year's tournament will include teams from Gainesville, Callisburg, Sacred Heart, Muenster, Valley View, Collinsville, Sam Rayburn, Fort Worth Trinity Valley and Bridgeport.
To help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Holiday Classic, some special events are also scheduled. On Thursday, members of the Mavs ManiAACs dance team will be performing at halftime of the 7:30 p.m. game. And on Saturday, a high-flying dunk exhibition by Mavs Man is scheduled for halftime of the boys championship game.
Also, members of the 1988 Muenster High School boys and Gainesville High School girls teams that are in attendance will be recognized at halftime of the 6 p.m. game on Thursday. Muenster’s boys and Gainesville’s girls won championship trophies at the first Holiday Classic back in 1988.
Other special awards to be presented at the tournament include the Bill King Sportsmanship Award and a special award to Sacred Heart High School for being the only team to participate in the tournament all 25 years.
The tournament is sponsored by First State Bank. Tickets for the three-day tournament will be sold at the door; they are $5 for adults and $3 for students for all-day admission.
Games begin at 9 a.m. each day, with the final game each day scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. All games will be played at Lions Fieldhouse on the NCTC Gainesville campus. Fans are encouraged to arrive early on both Thursday and Saturday to secure seating for both the Mavs ManiAACs and Mavs Man performances.
The complete tournament bracket can be downloaded at www.nctcathletics.com.
NCTC’s Darin Allred contributed to this report.