Thursday, December 23, 2010

SPORTS>>Jacksonville restores life to tourney


Leader sportswriter

It’s hard to kill a good tradition — especially if Jerry Wilson is in charge of it.

Jacksonville High School’s athletic director helped make the Red Devil Classic a local holiday favorite since its inception in December of 1990. Since then, many of the state’s top teams and talent have converged at the Devils Den for the annual tournament.

The event was a big draw throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium until other tournaments began to spring up around the Jacksonville area. That cut into the pool of available teams to fill out the Red Devil Classic girls and boys brackets.

The Beebe Holiday Classic and Jammin’ For Jackets at Little Rock Hall High School became competitive tournaments in newer facilities north and south of the Devils Den the week after Christmas.

The Red Devil Classic once featured eight-team brackets for both boys and girls, but the competing events forced the girls bracket to downsize to four.

The boys side was hit even worse. The Jacksonville boys played a round-robin schedule with North Pulaski and Little Rock Catholic in 2008, and last year Catholic was the only team in the classic besides the host.

Jacksonville and Catholic played games on consecutive days; the rest were girls games.

The tournament was traditionally held the week following Christmas, but Wilson and the basketball staff moved it up to Christmas week this year. That and adding Southern Floor and Blind and John Johnson attorney-at-law as sponsors gave the 2010 tournament a shot in the arm as six teams played in both the boys and girls brackets.

“Like anything else, the key is having a sponsor,” Wilson said. “We had two sponsors this year. We’re going to try to get out front and get it to where we get the girls in front, get teams locked in. This used to be one of the biggest draws in the state of Arkansas, and we’re going to try and get it back up.

“We’re talking about trying to go bigger and better, even possibly looking at out-of-state teams. It’s just all about the kids, and it’s about the community. They’ve supported it for over 20 years now, and we’re going to hopefully have a full slate next year.”

With the recent success of the Jacksonville and North Pulaski boys, Jacksonville has developed a hearty appetite for basketball. The Red Devils won the 2009 6A state championship the same season the Falcons reached the 5A final, where they lost a close game to Greene County Tech.

The birth of the Red Devil Classic in 1990 was complicated, Wilson said.

“I’d tell you the story about it, but it’s just a long story,” Wilson said. “We were going to tournaments, and we weren’t really getting a break, and we just said, ‘Hey, why don’t we have our own?’ And it’s just been nothing but good since. Really it’s a fundraiser.”

This year’s tournament featured boys and girls teams from Jacksonville, Brinkley and Little Rock McClellan, as well as boys teams from North Pulaski, Little Rock Christian and Little Rock Catholic.

Mills, Little Rock Hall and Joe T. Robinson filled out the girls bracket.

“It helps having the local teams, and you want the best to come out,” Wilson said. “They get Christmas holidays, and they get to spend some time with their families. We’re just fortunate to be on the upside of this. It says a lot about our community.”