The Plano Christmas Classic is celebrating its 50th year of holiday hoops this week.
The inaugural tournament brought in eight teams in 1963, featuring the host Reapers, Oak Lawn, Lisle, Sandwich, Lockport West, Plainfield and tournament champion Wauconda.
Over the decades, the Plano Christmas Classic grew with more teams. It expanded to 16 teams in 1977. Now, it’s bigger and better than ever, expanding from the traditional 16-team format to 24 varsity teams a year ago.
Throw in a 16-team sophomore event, the week-long hoop madness now includes 83 games. It will remain in that format, Plano Athletic Director Jim Schmidt said, as long as they stay with the 16-team JV tournament.
The Plano Christmas Classic continues to thrive for many reasons, most of all is the competition of teams and the hospitality Plano is well known for, including a killer hospitality room, around the coaching circuit.
“It’s a very good tournament, well run and great competition,” said Princeton coach Jesse Brandt, whose Tigers beat Somonauk 58-42 on Wednesday. PHS returned to Plano in 2010 after a 17-year absence.
Schmidt said the main reason this tournament has stayed afloat is “because of the attendance that it draws and by keeping the local teams still involved.”
Area teams to have played at Plano include Princeton, Bureau Valley, Ohio, Hall and Mendota.
The Storm won back-to-back titles in 2000-01, defeating Yorkville in the midst of their state tournament runs. BV last played at Plano in 2006 and has got back into the Christmas tournament spirit this year at Erie.
Hall also won the tournament in 1997 (over Mendota) during its undefeated run to the state championship game and again in 2007, defeating Seneca.
The Red Devils joined the Plano tournament in the early-’90s. Then Hall coach Eric Bryant Sr. was not fond of Thanksgiving tournaments because he felt his teams were not ready to play that early in the season with all of the success the Hall football teams were having.
“I always liked that tournament. They did a terrific job running it and treated our kids great,” Bryant said. “We would come across some of those teams in that area in the postseason and we always enjoyed the competition up there.”
Hall had to leave the tournament when it joined the Tri-County Conference last year, because it had used up its allotment of tournaments allowed by the IHSA.
PHS won its lone Plano crown in 1990 under coach Roger Lowe, defeating Kaneland whom the Tigers lost to in the 1988 finals. The Tigers returned to Plano in 2010 after a previous stint from 1986-92.
Mendota has won the tournament three times (1986, 1989, 1995), going on to reach the state tournament in the latter two years. The Trojans, Kaneland (1988, 1994, 2009) and Hinckley-Big Rock (1966, 1968, 1996) are the only three-time winners.
• Familiar faces at Marseilles: Putnam County coach Josh Nauman ran into some familiar faces when his Panthers met Hartsburg-Emden in opening round play Wednesday of Marseilles Holiday Tournament. He previously coached at Hartsburg for six years, where the head coach was his assistant and the two assistants are his former players.
Nauman said that connection would make things interesting.