The annual Tournament of Champions got underway at United Wireless Arena on Thursday and the field is stout.
“We seem to have stronger fields in the even number years,” said Dodge City High School athletic director Jay Gifford. “It seems to work out that way and this year we have some very good teams in the field.”
The tournament features Wichita Heights, Wichita East, Maize, Hutchinson, Leavenworth, Hays, Manhattan and host Dodge City. The tournament is seeded, but not just using records.
“We try to have teams in the same conference separated in the brackets,” Gifford said. “Also, if the teams have played each other, we separate them.
“Then we use the records to seed them after we try to get teams opponents they haven’t played before.”
Heights is one of the strongest teams in the field, coming in with an 8-1 record. Manhattan is unbeaten at 9-0, while Hays and Maize are 7-1.
The lowest seeds were Leavenworth and Hutchinson, both coming into play at 1-7, while Dodge City enters 4-5 and Wichita East is 5-4.
Despite the quality of teams, Gifford believes the crowds may be a little down this year from last year when Class 2A Central Plains advanced to the tournament final.
“Smaller teams seem to draw better,” Gifford said. “The fans travel better and everyone likes to see the David versus Goliath showdowns.
“The one thing everyone likes is good basketball and I think we’re going to see lots of good basketball the second and third days of the tournament.”
Manhattan coach Benjamin George is happy to be back in the event.
“We see some great competition,” George said. “It’s almost like a state tournament with the quality of play, the great facilities and the hospitality shown to the teams.
“We were happy to get back into the rotation. This tournament is one of the oldest prep tournaments in the nation and it’s always good to play here.”
Gifford said crowds are large when Dodge City plays well, which historically, the Red Demons do in the tournament.
“It’s always better if Dodge City wins,” the athletic director said. “We seem to draw large crowds when we play.”
Over the course of the 73 years, the Red Demons have the most tournament titles with 14 and most championship appearances with 21. Wichita East has played in the title game 18 times.
Hays is the most recent champion, having won the title in 2014. Wichita Heights last won in 2012, Dodge City captured its last title in 2011. Wichita East claimed the crown last in 2008.
Hutchinson won in 1986, while Manhattan’s last crown came in 1973. Maize and Leavenworth have never won the Tournament of Champions.
Semifinals for the tournament begin tonight at 7 p.m. and the championship game is Saturday at 6 p.m.
By Roger Bluhm, Dodge City Daily Globe