BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
SPORTS EDITOR EMERITUS
The 2013 Landair Ladies' Classic is in the record books, and those records will show that this tournament was one of the best in recent years, based on the game competition and the quality of the teams involved.
The four-day event, which involves a total of 29 ball games over that span, involves an inordinate amount of work from tournament director Ron Metcalfe right on through the ranks of all those volunteers who have helped make this holiday tournament one of the most popular in the south for the past 25 years.
"It went well," Metcalfe said when reviewing the tournament. "I think the caliber of competition was way up there. Many of the games were very close, especially on opening day. I think the tournament bracket committee did a good job in the first round pairings, which is often really hard to do."
While the crowds certainly don't measure up to the throngs that filled up Hal Henard Gym in the early years of the tournament, Metcalfe was pleased with the overall attendance at the 2013 Classic, noting that it was much better than last year.
"Greene County still loves girls' basketball," he said. "We have many of our locals who come back year after year and look forward to it. On championship night, Morristown West brought a really big crowd and that was good to see. Grainger County and Rutledge also represented their team well. Plus we had fans that came with the other out-of-state teams and they seemed happy with Greeneville and the tournament."
In observance of the Silver Anniversary of the tournament, all former players from the five local schools were invited to attend on a special day set aside for each of the schools. Several took advantage of that opportunity.
Often a team that appears to be the favorite coming into the event gets knocked out early, but not this year. Most observers will agree that the two best teams in the field, Morristown West and Archer High of Lawrenceville, Ga., made it to the championship game.
West, who has lost only twice this season (and one of those was to Classic participant Grainger), will likely use their play in this event as a springboard toward making a run toward Murfreesboro and the state tournament in March.
So will other teams.
Grainger is widely regarded as one of the best Class AA teams in the state. Grace Christian, who lost to Grainger in the consolation game, is one of the better Class A programs in Tennessee, and Class A foes South Greene (who lost to Grace in the quarterfinals) and North Greene know they might possibly see the Rams again this season when Sub-State time rolls around, if either or both are fortunate enough to escape one of the toughest regionals in the state.
Archer of Georgia, a school that is only five years old, showed they will be a force in Georgia's largest classification. Stocked with Division 1 players and tremendous size, Archer was well-coached and played with a lot of poise in the Ladies Classic.
One of the most fun games for me to watch was Saturday's seventh place game between Shelbyville and Wilson Central, two mid-state powers who don't play in the regular season but staged an all-out war in their contest. Never mind the game was for seventh place; it was obvious both teams wanted to win. Shelbyville eventually won but it took an overtime to do it.
There are always players at the Ladies' Classic who will be seen on television next season or the year after competing for a college powerhouse. This year was no different.
Many of those on the all-tournament team have committed to continue their careers at the college level, some for big-time programs and others for area schools. Metcalfe said there seemed to be more college scouts in Hal Henard Gym for this year's tourney, including those from Vanderbilt, Boston College, and even a junior college from Colorado.
The Ladies' Classic gives Greeneville a chance to show its hospitality to these visitors, and it doesn't go unnoticed. In speaking with team members and fans, it's obvious they are impressed with the treatment they receive here, not just by tournament officials, but by people they meet in restaurants and about town.
In addition, fans who can't make the trip to Greeneville to watch their team now take advantage of social media to keep track of the tournament. Brian Cutshall, director of on-line operations at The Greeneville Sun, said the Ladies' Classic website had almost 62,000 views since the tourney began on Friday. Photos of every game were also posted on the site and the number of fans who looked at those pictures was huge, he added.
With a Sunday off-day in the midst of this year's event, teams had the opportunity to do some special things on a day when they didn't have to go to the gym. Holy Name of Ohio and Archer both traveled to Knoxville to watch the Tennessee Lady Vols play and were given a tour of the facilities there. Seffner Christian of Florida made a trip to Biltmore in Asheville.
With Christmas falling on Thursday next year, Metcalfe said there will have to be another off-day in play. He said preliminary plans are to start the tournament on Saturday in 2014.
Meanwhile, Metcalfe is already at work lining up teams to play in 2014. That's a process that he hopes to have for the most part completed in a couple of months. Although there's a lot of competition out there for holiday tournaments, Metcalfe never has trouble filling up the slots for the 16 teams.
"I just want to thank all our sponsors for helping us to continue this tournament," Metcalfe said. "And of course all the volunteers who help each year. It could not be done without the number of volunteers who take time away from other things they could be doing over the holidays to work at this tournament."