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Published December 19 2010

Holiday tournaments in F-M are fading fast

The holidays used to bring a hefty buffet of high school hoops to Fargo-Moorhead for people looking to mix in a little hardwood with their Christmas dinners.

Concordia, Fargo Shanley, Moorhead High and a rotating combination of public schools in Fargo and West Fargo all hosted events.

It was more than enough to keep fans stuffed.

However, waning attendance, lack of interest from schools and a shift in scheduling philosophies have whittled the list down to a snack-sized morsel.

Only the Moorhead tournament remains.

“They were starting to become less financially lucrative than in the earlier years,” said Ed Lockwood, the activities director at Fargo Public Schools. “… But the driving force of the decision was to get (Eastern Dakota Conference) teams playing the conference games they needed to play.”

The Fargo Holiday Tournament was held for several years beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s, Fargo South boys coach Mike Hendrickson said. It ended when the North Dakota High School Activities Association moved the girls basketball season from fall to the winter in 2002-03.

The event morphed into the East-West Holiday tournament, a boys and girls tourney featuring North Dakota Class A teams held at various sites in Fargo, West Fargo and Bismarck. The tournament was discontinued five years ago.

Lockwood said a big reason behind the decision to drop the East-West Classic was the choice of most coaches to focus on a balanced conference schedule.

The NDHSAA allows 19 games in a season. The EDC currently has 10 teams, and the Western Dakota Conference has nine.

If a team in the EDC wants two games against each league opponent, only one game remains for a nonconference matchup.

To enter a tournament, a team would have to drop league games.

If a team plays one game against a league opponent, it places extra importance on the remaining contest because it is worth two points in the conference standings.

“I can defend it both ways,” Hendrickson said. “I liked having the tournament. … I like it when I get to see two or three teams from the West. I think it comes down to the philosophy of the athletic directors. If you are not making money, why are you going to run it?”

The Shanley Holiday Classic boys tournament was run for several years until 2006, Deacons athletic director Randy Nelson said.

The eight-team tournament featured teams from different classes in North Dakota and Minnesota. The tourney became a big local draw when the field included Minneapolis DeLaSalle, a team that often included several NCAA Division I recruits.

Nelson said he has talked to coaches about the possibility of forming a new holiday tournament.

“We’ve talked about trying to do a four-team holiday tournament with boys and girls,” Nelson said. “ … If we could find enough schools to do it, we would have to sit down with our coaches and ask if we wanted to drop three of our games to two-pointers.”

Concordia’s holiday boys basketball tournament began sometime in the 1970s, according to Cobbers athletic director Larry Papenfuss.

The event, which in later years included 10 Minnesota teams, was halted after 2009.

Papenfuss said the tournament’s attendance dipped significantly when the Minnesota State High School League restructured its postseason tournament format.

Papenfuss said for years schools would enter the Concordia tournament as a tune-up for section or state games later in the year at Memorial Auditorium.

However, new section assignments moved several of the tournament’s bigger local draws to a different postseason location.

“The very small schools did not bring much of a fan base,” Papenfuss said. “It became almost like an open gym. We just weren’t able to draw enough fans to make it worthwhile from a monetary standpoint.”

Papenfuss said ending the tournament was also a good way to give his department a break during the holidays.

But a holiday basketball event could come back to Concordia in a different format in the future, Papenfuss said.

“If the right person would want to take charge, sure,” he said. “What it comes down to is getting organized, having the incentive and getting some of the bigger schools here who would want to play. But at this point, we don’t have the manpower.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com