After covering the District 9C boys and girls basketball tournament since 2002, it was interesting to wait until Thursday night for this year’s 9C extravaganza to begin.
I was a little unsure of the new schedule, simply because the 9C tournament is so big to so many people, and besides the basketball, it’s generally a week-long celebration of our area, the communities, the fans and the kids. So to wait until Thursday seemed a little odd. And, basketball at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning? Ouch!
But it didn’t take more than five minutes into the first game for me to realize that while game times may changes, less days, more days, it doesn’t matter. The 9C tournament is what it is, simply one of the best basketball tournaments each year in Montana.
How do I know that? Years of experience for one. But Thursday night certainly reflected that statement as one of the largest first-day tournament crowds I’ve seen in the tournament’s last nine years filed into the Havre High gymnasium for three games.
Halfway through the first game, a girls thriller between Hays-Lodge Pole and North Star, the gym was almost packed, which is not usually the case on the day one of the tournament. But perhaps fans couldn’t wait for their 9C basketball any longer than I could.
They were ready.
And the games didn’t disappoint either.
The opening tilt between HLP and North Star epitomized the 9C tournament and Class C basketball as HLP came roaring back form 20 points down to beat the Knights. HLP has perennially been at the bottom of the 9C tournament for almost a decade now, but as the 9C always brings upsets, surprises and an underdog or two, the T-Birds are now in the semifinals, and one win away from a berth in the Northern C Divisional.
Day one saw another former 9C powerhouse start to show some of its old magic as the Box Elder boys put on an exciting display in a first-round win over HLP. Box Elder has had many a glorious year in the 9C tournament, and this Bears teams looks like it wants to be a part of that history.
Then there’s the Turner Tornadoes. Playing for pride on both sides, as Turner did not field a girls team this season, Turner always plays a gutsy, hard-nosed style of basketball, and the Tornadoes did again on Thursday night. And while Turner lost to a very good North Star team, coached by a first-year head coach in Cody Donoven, who’s had some great 9C moments of his own as a player, the Tornadoes game their fans plenty to be proud of, as they always do.
I also owe a congratulations to the fans themselves.
Not only did all of you show up in record first-day numbers Thursday night, but you certainly brought your voices with you. Two hours after the first session ended, I’m writing this with my ears still ringing, because for many moments on Thursday night, it was loud enough to make me think I was in the middle of a Justin Bieber mall appearance, rather than a basketball game.
Yes, the first day of the 9C tourney may have taken a while to get here, but nothing has changed. The tournament is still magical, the fans are still magical and even thought that 8 a.m. game is going to come awfully early on Saturday morning, it’s going to be a great next two days
It always is, because simply it’s the 9C tournament and it’s as special as it gets around here.