By TREY WILLIAMS
Second-year David Crockett girls basketball coach Tony Gordon was part of the Hardee’s Classic tournament while an assistant with the Crockett boys team and when he was the head coach of the University High and Elizabethton boys’ programs.
And he didn’t see why that had to change when he became the Crockett girls coach.
Consequently, the 30th annual Hardee’s Classic basketball tournament will tip off Monday at David Crockett with the inclusion of a girls tournament for the first time.
The girls’ quarterfinals are scheduled for Monday and girls’ semifinals are set for Wednesday. The boys’ first two rounds will be Tuesday and Friday, and both championship games are set for Saturday.
“I wanted to do this,” Gordon said. “I think it helps build our program and it helps out local teams. It’s a really good tournament. It’s a great atmosphere for early in the season and it also gives you a great evaluation tool for where your team is at and where it needs to go.
“And Hardee’s does a great job of sponsoring and taking care of the teams. It’s not gonna last for 30 years because it’s poorly done.”
The addition of a girls tournament has been considered in the past.
“It is something we have looked at for a while now,” Crockett athletic director Josh Kite said, “and we thought, being the 30th annual tournament, it would be a great fit.”
The Pioneers, led by junior third-year starter Emma Gouge, open play in Monday’s 8 p.m. nightcap against Chuckey-Doak.
Crockett could play in the second round against University High, which is coached by Gordon’s Pioneer predecessor Marty Story. University High will play Happy Valley in the quarterfinal opener Monday at 3:30 p.m.
Gordon would like to think his team has a chance to reach the championship game, where a tough challenge could await in the form of Meigs County.
“Meigs County is a traditional power down there,” Gordon said. “They’ve been to the state tournament. They’re used to winning. That’s somebody that strengthened our field and I think kind of made it even more legitimate than it already is, which is nice.
“We have all those local teams, but it’s nice to have somebody that nobody really knows a whole lot about yet. They’re a solid, proven program coming up here – and want to come up here – and be a part of something we’re trying to start a tradition with. That’s great.”
Meigs County will play Leon Tolley’s Johnson County Longhorns in the quarterfinals.
“Coach Tolley does such a good job with ‘em and I know they’re gonna be ready to play,” Gordon said. “And I think they’ve got most of their kids back. So I think that should be a really good game.”
The boys bracket has a new feel as well. The host Pioneers are coached by first-year coach Cody Connell, a 29-year-old alum of Washington County rival Daniel Boone, which is also in the tournament.
Connell is familiar with the tournament.
“My senior year (at Boone) we had a great run and made it to the championship,” Connell said, “and played a very good Unicoi team that had Cameron Miller, the standout point guard, and Logan Lyle. They ended up beating us. I think it was maybe a two- or three-point ballgame. It was a good run for us.”
Crockett will open against West Greene on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Should the Pioneers win, they would take on the University High and Morristown West winner.
University High defeated Crockett last year before losing to Boone in the Hardee’s championship game. It returns key players Kaleb Meredith and Marshall Fleenor from a state tournament team.
“University High and Morristown West – those two will be pretty good,” Connell said. “That’ll be a good game to watch. … (UH) is gonna be experienced. They have a chance to compete deep into their season, from what I see. They’ll be hard to beat in the Hardee’s.”
Connell’s Pioneers include Donta Hackler, Dawson Wagner, Prince Kollie, Eric Dunbar and Mason Britton. They should have a chance to make a run at the title.
“I think our guys have confidence that they can beat anybody, which is good,” Connell said. “I mean I want ‘em having that confidence. If they can buy in and really start playing good together, I think they’ll be fun to watch. … I’m not saying we’re gonna win the whole thing, but I think we have an opportunity to do that if we come together and buy in and do things the right way.”
Boone’s boys will open against Claiborne County on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. The defending-champion Trailblazers must replace tournament MVP Chad Heglar.
North Greene is coached by former Crockett player Sam Tarlton, whose father Richard was the Pioneers head coach during his career.
One spectator will also get a chance to make a shot from half-court on Saturday to win a new car from Champion Chevrolet.