Aaron Colen, Sports Editor, Aaron.Colen@chickashanews.com
It was decided by school superintendents about a year ago that Minco would host the Grady County Tournament. Six months after that, Minco Athletic Director Clint Shirley begins to make the calls to get the officials lined up for the games.
A month before the tournament begins, superintendent Kevin Sims and Shirley begin to assign specific duties, recruit volunteers and gate-keepers, and contact businesses that want to help out.
Two weeks before tip-off, coaches and administrators get together and set the brackets.
The gym floor will be swept and buffed the morning before games start, then nothing is left but to wait for the buses to show up.
Although the tournament is usually held at the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma, this year Minco hosted all five days.
With an activity center that's only a few years old, Minco was a logical choice to host the tournament when scheduling conflicts with USAO basketball practice could not be resolved.
"This is the nicest facility in the county, other than Chickasha High School," Shirley said. "The kids are excited to play here, and that's the bottom line. It's about the kids."
Shirley is familiar with the Grady County Basketball Tournament.
As a high school student, he played in the tournament for the Rush Springs Redskins. He's coached in the tournament before. Last year, Verden hosted the first four days of the tournament, and Shirley oversaw it as the school's athletic director.
This year, as the athletic director for Minco schools, he knows what to expect out of the tournament.
"I knew last year that Minco would have it, and when I decided to take the job, a lot of people said 'You know you've got to do the tournament again, right?'," Shirley said. "I know how to do it because I've been involved in it."
He gets to the gym at about 1:30 each day, and stays until after 10 p.m. He said he enjoys it, but it can be a tiring schedule to maintain for a week.
"There are a lot of worse things a guy can do every evening than watch basketball, but it is a lot of work, and it takes a lot of people to do it," Shirley said. "It's not a one-man job, that's for sure."
Sims may be a little less familiar with the tournament than Shirley, but he's getting plenty of on-the-job training.
As Minco's superintendent, he has a lot of different roles. Some of them likely fall within his official job description, but many of them don't.
Sometimes he's a janitor, helping pick up trash and sweep the floors late at night once all the games are over. Sometimes he's a cashier taking money at the concession stand.
During a typical tournament, Sims fills the role of a customer service representative. If the music in the gym is too loud, if the referees aren't doing a good job, or if the bathroom is out of toilet paper, a paying customer might ask him to solve that problem.
Some issues he can handle. He can turn the music down, and he can refill the toilet paper. He can't referee the games, however, nor does he want to.
"Typically with a smile," Sims said about the way he handles referee complaints. "I just more or less listen. What can you say? I can't change the officials or the outcome of a call or a game, and I wouldn't. I tell them I respect their opinion, but there is nothing I can do about it."
He's even had to be a plumber this week.
"I had to take care of a plumbing issue that came up the other night, I had to fix a urinal," Sims said. "Which I didn't do a very good job at, but I had to go fix it.
"My thing is to just help ensure that it runs smoothly," he said.
As Sims has learned this week, that can mean many different things.
Food and hospitality in MInco
There's a lot of food at the Grady County Tournament.
Eight schools bring 16 teams. Sixteen teams have between eight and 12 players, who each bring parents, siblings, grandparents and other family members. Each team has several coaches. Students come to watch their friends play.
And that's still not everyone. There are teachers, administrators, and volunteers who are at the Minco Activity Center from early in the afternoon before the games start until after 10 p.m.
It takes a lot of food to feed a crowd that size every night.
The concession stand is staffed every day by volunteers. The Chickasha Bank & Trust Company and the Bank of Union each volunteered to staff the concession stand for a day.
For those involved with the tournament, including coaches, administrators, teachers, workers and media, there is the hospitality room.
Each day, Shirley, with plenty of help from the Minco Booster Club, makes sure there is enough food for everybody to eat from 4-10 p.m. Some of the food is prepared by club members, and some of it is catered from local food establishments.
Monday there was pizza. Tuesday there were sandwiches. Wednesday there was food from Chicken Express, and also more pizza.
The refrigerator is fully stocked with water, Gatorade, soda and lemonade, and there are many different snacks and desserts. All of that preparation takes a lot of time, and sometimes a lot of money.
"The county has a checking account, and since I was at Verden last year, I still have it," Shirley said. "The county funds pay for the hospitality room. The gate fees go back to the county, minus the expenses for the tournament.
"There have been years when $3,000 or $4,000 has been spent on a hospitality room, which is absurd, so we try not to do that," Shirley said. "But even what we're doing will cost $1,500 to $2,000."
Tracy Allen is the vice president of the Minco Booster Club. She said that as busy as it's been, the assistance she and her club have had has made it bearable.
"It's been a lot of fun," Allen said. "A lot of help helps, if that makes sense. It's for the kids, it's a good cause."
Allen and the booster club sell t-shirts, solicit donations for the team and for the hospitality room, and make sure there is someone staffing the hospitality room each night.
"Administrators and coaches do a bulk of the work, we just kind of assist wherever we're needed," Allen said.
There are more people involved in the tournament still. The National Guard volunteered to staff the pass gate. There are maintenance workers, student volunteers who sweep the floors between games, and other volunteers who work in the concession stands or help with clean-up. There are scorekeepers and scoreboard operators who watch every second of every game. Each one of them is necessary for smooth operation.
Am-Po next, future uncertain after
Next season, the Grady County Tournament will be played at Amber-Pocasset High School, when the school's new gym is completed. After that, the future location of the tournament is unknown.
Because of scheduling conflicts with Chickasha's annual wrestling tournament and because the OSSAA denied a request to move the Grady County Tournament a week earlier, administrators haven't been able to successfully move the tournament to Chickasha High School, Shirley said.
"I don't know what the future holds," Sims said. "If we'll go back to USAO or if we will rotate it around the gyms that can host it: Verden, Minco, Am-Po, Dibble. "The other facilities aren't large enough to host that tournament, so we'll have to make that decision.
After next year, Shirley said they'll take it one year at a time when deciding where the tournament will be held.
"All I know is, I'm not doing it [next year]," Shirley said with a laugh. Two years in a row is enough for him.
Thursday night scores:
In the winner's bracket, the Minco girls beat Rush Springs, 57-51, to advance to Saturday night's championship game.
The Amber-Pocasset girls beat Dibble 62-38, and will face Minco in Saturday's 7 p.m. title game.
In consolation boys games, Alex beat OCA 45-37, and Dibble beat Ninnekah 49-46 to advance to Saturday's fifth-place game, set to be played at 12:30 p.m.
The remaining Saturday matchups were determined Friday. Check Chickashanews.com for updates.