Region tourney site up for vote Jan. 22

Photo by Greg Eans, Messenger-Inquirer | The Sportscenter, built in 1949, is in the final year of its third three-year contract to host the boys' and girls' 3rd regional tournaments.

The future site of the 3rd Region Basketball Tournament will be determined in a vote by the 15 representative schools on Jan. 22 at the Owensboro Sportscenter.

There are two proposals -- one via Spectra Venue Management that would keep the tournament at the Sportscenter, and another that puts the tournament back at school sites that have gymnasiums with 2,250 or more seats -- with the Sportscenter included rotationally, as Owensboro Catholic High School's home venue.

The Sportscenter, built in 1949, is in the final year of its third three-year contract to host the boys' and girls' regional tournaments. The most recent rotational-site venue (for semifinals and finals) was Meade County High School in 2011.

Ten votes (two-thirds of representation) are required to pass either proposal, and representatives on both sides have indicated that if neither proposal passes, the tournament plan could revert back to what it was before the first Sportscenter proposal was approved -- the event rotating from school to school, with four first-round games being played at the sites of district tournament winners.

There is language in the KHSAA bylaws, however, suggesting that KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett could play a role in the tournament's fate if neither proposal is passed, according to Owensboro athletic director Todd Harper.

The proposal to keep the event at the Sportscenter -- expected to be unanimously supported by 9th District schools, among others -- was presented in the fall, and the proposal to move it out of the Sportscenter, championed by Ohio County High School principal Robby Asberry, will be presented at the Jan. 22 meeting that will be conducted by Donna Bumps, principal at Muhlenberg County High School.

Both proposals will be voted on that day.

Gates Settle, principal at Owensboro Catholic High School, takes the approach that if it's not broken, don't fix it.

"To me, it's all about the venue -- the Sportscenter is a very special place," Settle said. "There is ample seating for all, there is seating for each school's band and room for cheerleaders, there is ample parking, there is plenty of space for as many media outlets as want to cover the tournament, and it's a safe environment.

"One of the extra bonuses has been the financial gains that have been generated for the member schools since the Sportscenter began hosting the event on a yearly basis, but, let me be clear on this, to me that's just a bonus -- I'd vote for the Sportscenter no matter the financial gain."

Plain and simple, Settle believes no other venue in the 3rd Region can hold a candle to the venerable Sportscenter.

"It's all about the experience, and I felt that way when I played high school basketball at McLean County," Settle said. "There was just something special about the idea of playing in the Sportscenter, and there was something special about actually playing in the Sportscenter.

"That environment just can't be duplicated anywhere else, with the bands, the cheerleaders, with huge crowds for the semifinals and basically a packed house for the boys' finals. It's an atmosphere like no other in the 3rd Region.

"The Sportscenter is just where this tournament should be."

Asberry, of course, has a different take on the matter -- armed with statistics he believes underscores the reasoning of those schools seeking to move the event out of the Sportscenter.

"I have to do what I believe is best for Ohio County High School," said Asberry, who said that his proposal would avoid a split-session for the boys' semifinal round. "We're a school that has won 14 (boys and girls) regional championships since 1969, and I feel we have a better chance of winning the regional tournament with a regional site rotation.

"I played (for Ohio County) from 1989-92 and I loved the atmosphere of the regional tournament when it was at other schools. It's a different atmosphere than when it's at the Sportscenter -- it's an atmosphere I liked and enjoyed playing in back in high school."

According to Asberry, since 1970 there have been 95 regional tournaments (50 boys, 45 girls) conducted. Fifty-four of the tournaments have been hosted in Owensboro, and 9th District teams won championships 42 of those times (78%). Conversely, the tournament has been held outside Owensboro 41 times, and 9th District schools won only 14 of those events (34%).

"There's an advantage to not having to travel, there's an advantage to not getting on a bus, there's an advantage to playing in an arena you're more familiar with," Asberry said. "I just think it's more equitable and more fair when it's hosted at school sites."

Breckinridge County High School boys' head coach Patrick Critchelow concurs.

"If we play a late game in the regional tournament (at the Sportscenter), the game's not over until around 10 p.m., we get back home around 11, and the kids get home between 11:30 and midnight," Critchelow said. "So, the travel is a real disadvantage if you're not in the Owensboro city limits.

"Plus, not being used to playing in the Sportscenter atmosphere, with the different shooting background and such, is another disadvantage.

"Personally, I enjoy the arena, having played in the Sportscenter while at KWC, but that's not what we're talking about here."

Harper, however, contends that playing the event at the Sportscenter on a yearly basis simply makes more sense.

"To me, the Sportscenter is the only acceptable venue in the area to hold a tournament of this magnitude," said Harper, noting that in 12 of the other 15 regions in Kentucky their regional tournament is contested at a centralized site. "If there was a 5,000-seat facility in Central City or in Edmonson County, then I would say we should play it there.

"It's the best venue for the most people, and that's everyone involved, including the fans. Over 3,500 tickets were sold for last year's boys' championship game (between Owensboro and Breckinridge County), and I guarantee there were over 4,000 people in the building, easy -- that just can't happen anywhere else in the region."

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