By Kathleen Swift
Every December since 1954, high school basketball squads have converged on Southwest Missouri to face off in the Neosho Holiday Classic. A staple of community activity between Christmas and New Year’s, the basketball tournament began with area schools coming together for friendly competition. Despite a long history of support by the community, in the 1990’s participation began to waiver. Noting that successful high school basketball tournaments are driven by both business and community support, Branco became the official tournament sponsor in 1998. Through the hard work of the Neosho High School, area businesses, and local volunteers, the tournament has grown to become one of the premier tournaments in the nation.
This year’s tournament begins on Monday, December 29, and includes both boy’s and girl’s brackets. Though all games are well attended, capacity crowds are expected for the Tuesday evening Slam Dunk and 3 Point Shoot Out contests. In addition to local and regional teams, this year’s edition includes teams from five states including Texas and Tennessee. As always, the high level of high school talent provides excellent opportunities to view great basketball.
While the community reaps significant benefits from the tournament’s success, the motivation behind Branco’s involvement is the players. “Branco’s desire is to provide, local, regional, and national high school basketball teams a fun, exciting tournament. The benefits for the players are diverse and numerous. Playing against nationally ranked teams gives local players a level of exposure that they normally would not receive. The players relish the opportunity to play against high caliber competition, which leaves them with lifelong memories,” says Brennan Robinson of Branco. Numerous college scouts and media outlets attend the tournament, which can open the door to opportunities for players at the next level.
At the same time, players are beneficiaries of unrivaled hospitality. Branco provides lodging and travel as necessary for the out of area teams. In addition, each player and coach receives a tournament t-shirt and goodie bag. Hospitality rooms are available at the tournament for coaches, players, officials, and administrators. “Hot meals are provided all day long, and the players and coaches are always amazed at the quality of the food and the service that comes with it,” says Robinson. Robinson notes that numerous area churches have become an integral part to the tournament in recent years by preparing and serving the evening meals.
The preservation of the tournament has ensured the continuation of a long-standing Neosho tradition. Many business leaders in the Neosho and surrounding communities participated in the tournament at one time and have fond memories.
As the underwriter for the event, Branco is committed to the long-term success of the tournament. However, Branco is not alone. The staff, coaches, and administrators from the Neosho School District put in long hours to ensure that the tournament runs smoothly. And, dozens of workers and volunteers are needed every year. In addition, many local businesses provide support in the form of event sponsorships. “While local citizens recognize the impact that the tournament has had on the community, the greatest satisfaction is seeing the players compete in the game they love and watching the fans as they take the opportunity to break away from the stresses of life and enjoy competitive high school basketball.”