By WAYNE PHILLIPS
Sports Editor Emeritus
If the math is correct, Jim Rich will take his seat on press row this morning and handle the controls for the game clock for the 675th game in the Ladies' Classic since the tournament was born in 1989.
That's every game that's ever been played in the popular holiday tournament.
There are fans as well as other volunteers who have been a part of every game played in the Ladies' Classic, but none have a more important task than Rich, the former Greeneville High School coach and teacher.
As the tournament's official timekeeper, he isn't given the privilege of letting his attention wander as the games begin at 10 in the morning and aren't normally finished until about 12 hours or so later.
"I enjoy it or I wouldn't have been doing it all these years," Rich said of his duties at the scoring table. "I get up and move around between games and sometimes at the half, so it isn't too bad."
The keeper of the clock must be on his toes throughout the tournament, listening to every officials' whistle blow and paying attention to every substitute that a coach wants to get into the game. That's 29 games in four days.
A perk of the job, and watching all the games through the years, has been the opportunity to see so many athletes play at Hal Henard, Rich said. But he stopped short when asked who is the best player he's seen come through the tourney, now in its 24th season.
"Oh there's been so many good ones, I wouldn't know where to start," he said. "But I think the most popular one was Katie Smrcka-Duffy."
Smrcka-Duffy was a red-headed point guard from James Madison High in Virginia in the 1994 event that was an immediate crowd favorite with her uncanny ball-handling skills and hustling style of play.
Another volunteer who has seen at least a part of every one of the 674 (and counting) games in the Ladies' Classic is Bill Nance, the now retired wildlife officer. Nance's job every year is to direct the teams to their proper dressing facility, and many teams have commented to tournament officials about Nance's friendly personality and the way he greets and speaks with players and coaches.
The official scorebooks for the tournament are kept by the duo of Eual Shelton and Tim Armstrong, who have also been a part of every tournament, but they share work time with each normally scoring four games each day.
"You couldn't have this tournament without all the wonderful volunteers, and we have many and they are very good," Ron Metcalfe, the tournament's general chairman, noted. "Most have been doing the same thing for so many years that I don't need to tell them anything. They just know what to do so I get out of the way."
Thursday's attendance was good, sparked by opening round wins by three -- Greeneville, South Greene and Chuckey-Doak -- local teams.
Neither of those three teams advanced to the semis, however. But the two semifinals scheduled for tonight -- Murfreesboro Oakland vs. CAK, and Morristown West vs. Rockcastle County (Ky.) -- figure to be good matches and will likely draw a strong Friday throng.
The tournament will conclude on Saturday with five games, starting at 1:30 with the championship tilt scheduled for 7:30.
Coach James Buchanan's North Greene Lady Huskies gutted out a hard-earned 56-55 win over Charlotte Christian Thursday, and the coach said the trainers were busy in the locker room.
With one starter -- Laiken Morrow -- sidelined for the tournament with an ankle injury, ace junior guard Mendy McNeese crashed to the floor with an apparent ankle sprain on Thursday. She returned to action after getting the ankle wrapped up and helped her team to a win, but she was limping.
On Wednesday, reserve Shayna Harmon sustained a nasty cut above the eye when caught by an elbow. She was able to play on Thursday.
"Held together by band-aids," is how Buchanan described his scrappy pack of Huskies.
South Greene got junior Alora Ricker back on the playing floor during the quarterfinal game with Oakland. Ricker has missed a couple of weeks with an ankle injury.
Ricker finished with a team-high 15 points in 23 minutes of playing time.
Not blessed with a quantity of experienced depth, three Rebels are the only players in the tournament who have played every second of their first two games. Coach Stephen Gregg has kept Cheyenne Upton, Ashton Wykle and Javan Wilhoit on the playing floor for all 64 minutes of the two games.
West Greene senior Charlotte Murphy crossed the 1,000 point scoring plateau for her career during the Lady Buffs' victory over Morristown East on Thursday.
CAK's Kaycee Heitzman is averaging 22 points in her two tourney games. Gigi Bailey of Charlotte Christian is at 21.5 and Mendy McNeese of North Greene is averaging 21 per game.
Top rebounder is South Greene's Cheyenne Upton, who has 25 rebounds in two games for a 12.5 average. Charlotte Murphy of West Greene has 22 (11 per game average).
Tops in assists is guard Anna Hammaker of CAK with 16 (8 per game), Michaela Hunter of Rockcastle has 15 (7.5 average).
Hannah Riddle of Chuckey-Doak and Bree Horner of Shelbyville lead in steals with a 5 per game average.
Cheyenne Hooper, CAK's 6-6 shot-swatter, is on line to shatter the tournament record for blocked shots as she has 15 in two games, a 7.5 average. The tournament record is 22.