Holiday basketball tournaments during Christmas vacation started in the ’60s and are still going today. From the ’60s through 2008 there was no MPA policy, as there is today, limiting schools to only five countable dates for preseason or exhibition games including holiday tournaments.
While coaching at Orono from 1962-69, we went to the Penobscot Valley Boys High School Holiday Tournaments and the Boys Caribou Holiday Tournament.
While coaching at Bangor from 1969-77, we hosted our own Boys Holiday Tournament Classic at the Bangor Auditorium for the eight area high school teams: Bangor, Bangor Christian, Brewer, Hampden, Hermon, John Bapst, Orono and Old Town. Each team played a game a day for three days with a winners’ bracket and a consolation bracket.
While coaching at John Bapst from 1987-2000, we held our own Boys Holiday Classics at the Auditorium for 11 years and went to the Portland Holiday Classic in 1998 and 1999.
We always broke the basketball season into five parts. Part one was the preseason weeks and the second part was the three weeks of regular-season games before Christmas vacation.
During the Christmas vacation was the third, and most important, part as we made our changes during practice and finished up with at least three holiday games to evaluate the changes. Then we went onto the fourth part, the regular-season games after Christmas break, and part five was postseason preparation, which usually included an exhibition game before tournament play.
With the MPA’s new sports season policy of just five playable dates for all exhibition games, which went into effect during the 2009-10 season, it is very important how coaches select their five dates.
If I were coaching today, I would arrange two playable dates in preseason on the first two Saturdays and play at least two games each day. During Christmas break I would play two holiday tourney playable dates with at least two games per day.
During the preparation for postseason play, I would use one playable date with one or two games. That would give me five playable dates with 10-plus exhibition games.
Players were required to be present at all practices and games during Christmas break as that was part of the Parent, Player, Coach and School Contract. This was extremely important as we evaluated the preseason and three weeks of regular-season play and made the necessary changes needed for the remainder of the season.
We did not practice Christmas, but we did practice in the morning on Christmas Eve and we also practiced on New Year’s Day. We usually only practiced before Christmas Day and held or played in holiday tournaments after Christmas and before New Year’s.
Holiday tournaments not only prepare you for the remainder of the season but are also an excellent way of raising money for the basketball program.
With the basketball season being only 12 to 15 weeks long, depending on how far your team went in the postseason, the players were expected to be in attendance, and they knew these attendance requirements before they signed the school contract. They knew that the only days they would have off would be Sundays, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. During Christmas vacation we always practiced at 3 in the afternoon so the players could sleep in, except on the day before Christmas and the day before New Year’s, when we would practice at noon.
Holiday tournaments were very important and still should be today, especially when the MPA has limited the schools to just five playable exhibition dates in their “Fairness Doctrine” approach to their current sports season policy.
With that being said, “Merry Christmas To All and a Happy New Year” for the remaining basketball season of practices, exhibition games, regular-season games and postseason games.
Bob Cimbollek is a retired high school basketball coach and former high school and college basketball official.