By Steve Robinson | December 15, 2018 - 9:30 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

As I write this, the clock winds down on a number of events upcoming: Christmas shopping, the Christmas holiday itself, and the days toward the first big basketball event of the season, the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Classic, known to many in these parts as simply “The Classic.”

This will be the 40th annual event for boys’ basketball for this event, although not consecutively. Dave Oloffson, vice president of the group that operates the tournament, reminded me the tourney didn’t run for a few years in the mid-1980s. Be that as it may, we have arrived at a milestone year and the anticipation is building.

This year’s Classic will run from Wednesday through Saturday, Dec. 26-29 at a number of locations throughout Bloomington-Normal. Those locations include Normal Community High School, Normal Community West High School, Bloomington High School, and of course, Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus. It has become the event of the season after we have all had time with family and want more time to continue having fun while watching high school athletes attempt to add a few Ws to their team records.

In the Small School Boys Division, Aurora Christian was given the top seed by the Tournament committee. Three teams from within town and the county join them to try to reach the championship, and in the process, two of them will have to face each other in the opening round. El Paso Gridley is seeded fifth and will face 12th seed Winnebago on Dec. 26 at 5p.m. at Shirk. Bloomington Central Catholic is seeded seventh and will square off against 10th seed Downs Tri-Valley for a 10:30a.m.session at Shirk. It would take making it to the championship game or the 5th place game for two of these local teams to face one another.

Normal Community High School is seeded 7th in the Large School Boys Bracket and will face 10th seed Mahomet-Seymour in their opening round contest Dec. 26 at Normal West starting with a 5p.m. tipoff. University High is the only other local or county team in this bracket. The 12th seeded Pioneers will face 5th seed Zion-Benton at 1:30p.m. that first day at Normal West.

Bloomington Central Catholic is the highest seed among local schools, seeded fifth, in the Girls Small School Bracket. The Saints will be the home team when they take on 12th seed Rockford Lutheran Dec. 26 in a 9:30p.m. nightcap at Normal West. El Paso Gridley is seeded 13th in this bracket and will try for an upset of 4th seed Annawan, at 8p.m., also at Normal West.

U-High’s girls’ team drew one of the toughest assignments when it drew one of the highest seeds in this year’s tourney in the Large School Girls Bracket. The Pioneers are seeded 16th and will face top seed Peoria Richwoods on opening day at 12 Noon at Bloomington High School. BHS, incidentally, is returning as a host site for the first time for this tournament since 1999, according to Oloffson. The Purple Raiders girls squad will have challenges of their own to meet, being seeded 13th and opening the tournament on their own hardwood against 4th seed Rock Island on day one beginning at 3p.m. Tenth seed NCHS will face off against 7th seed Chicago St. Ignatius on opening night at 8p.m. at BHS. If the Iron squad gets to the second round, they could face the only out-of-state team, Union, Kentucky-based Ryle High School in the second round. Ryle High is seeded second.

“In the Large School Girls bracket, there are 11 girls who have committed to a Division I Scholarship,” Oloffson said. “There’s a lot of great individual talent in that.”

He added he thinks both of the boys brackets are “two of the best brackets we’ve had in a number of years. All four brackets should be really competitive.”

Normal West Boys To Pekin, BHS To Pontiac For Tournament Action: Some of us might have to travel for the holidays, but not to worry about missing any of the basketball this time of year if you find yourself in either Tazewell County, Pontiac, or vicinity. The 54th Annual Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament will run for three days starting Thursday, Dec. 27 at Hawkins Gym on the Pekin Community High School campus. Normal West’s Boys’ team is the only local team competing there, joined by host Pekin, Springfield Lanphier, Washington, Peoria Richwoods, Plainfield East, Moline, Limestone, Hersey, Rockford Boylan, United Township, Freeport, Lake Zurich, Morton, Pattonville, and Mount Carmel.

Only the top four teams in the tourney get seeded at Pekin. While Normal West wasn’t seeded, they could face one seeded team if they win their first game and advance to the second round. In round one, head coach Brian Cupples’ troops will take on Mount Carmel in the last game on day one starting with a 9:30p.m. tipoff. Should the Wildcats win that match, they would play the winner of the first round game between second seed Morton and Pattonville.

Normal West isn’t the only local team hitting the road for competition, either, as BHS’ boys’ team will compete in the 88th Annual Pontiac Holiday Tournament. Only the top four teams get seeded in Pontiac, but luckily, head coach Micheal Mosley’s Purple Raiders were seeded fourth. Chicago Heights-based Bloom Township claims top seed here, with Chicago-based Curie Metropolitan High School being seeded second and Big 12 rival Danville seeded third among this tourney’s 16-team field. It’s a field which includes Chicago Simeon, Lockport, St. Charles North, Joliet West, New Trier, Plainfield North, Warren, Lisle-based Benet Academy, Peoria Manual, Oak Park-River Forest, Pontiac, and West Aurora.

I look forward to bringing you action from games and hope there’s time for some cheer to be spread along the way regardless of who wins or loses.

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