No holiday hoops, just memories

For the first time since 1957, local hoops fans did not have a Freeburg-Columbia Holiday Tournament to attend. 

This sparked thoughts of holiday tournaments past, with many posting their memories via social media.

The annual hoops extravaganza alternates host sites between Columbia and Freeburg from year to year, and most recently included Columbia, Freeburg, Alton Marquette, Waterloo, Gibault, Civic Memorial, Valmeyer and Lovejoy.

Marquette and Columbia have been the top dogs in recent years, with the Explorers winning six of the last nine tourneys and Columbia claiming the other three. 

In a classic showdown, the Eagles won last year’s tourney title tilt at home over Marquette, 39-35.

The local team with the most Columbia-Freeburg Holiday Tournament titles, however, is Gibault with eight. Columbia has seven.

The first tourney win for the Hawks came in exciting fashion back in 1984.

“In 1984, Gibault shocked the world by winning a tournament that included five or six NCAA Division I players – Memphis legend and Wake Forest recruit Roderick Watson, future Saint Louis University players Monroe Douglass and Roland Gray of McKinley, Michigan State recruit Jesse Hall (of Venice) and a loaded Lebanon squad,” former Belleville News-Democrat sports writer Norm Sanders posted on Facebook.

In fact, Sanders covered the 1984 tourney as a stringer for the Republic-Times while also doing a coaching internship with the Hawks. He worked for the BND from 1985 to 2017.

“Gibault’s lineup included (tourney MVP) Jeff Pieper, Darryl Schilling, Danny Schilling, Tim Degener, Joel Schutt, Lance Williamson and a freshman named Steve Wightman,” Sanders recalled of that ‘84 team. “Gibault won the first regional title in school history that season and lost a tough one to DuQuoin in the sectional. Still have great memories of that season, especially winning that tourney.”

Gibault won the tourney by downing then-unbeaten Venice, 63-62, in double overtime. The Hawks advanced to the finals by beating St. Paul (Highland) and Freeburg before stunning Memphis Westside despite a 44-point outburst from Watson.

“Gibault had no business winning that tournament, but everything came together perfectly,” Sanders assessed.

A few records still stand from that 1984 tourney. Watson holds the record for most points (150) and field goals made (65) in a tournament. Memphis Westside holds the record for most field goals made in a tourney (156).

Hall returned for Venice in 1985 and scored 48 points in one tourney game, another record that remains.

Locals who hold records include Gibault’s Michael Hoffman, who grabbed 63 rebounds in the 2008 tourney, and Gibault’s Brent Pieper, who made 19 free throws in one game during the 1972 tourney.

Dupo’s Brian Grasle holds tourney records with  49 free throws made and 55 attempted during the 1998 tourney.

Waterloo, which has never won the annual tourney, tangled with Triad in a record-setting showdown to determine who would play Columbia for third place.

Triad edged the Bulldogs in six overtimes, 111-106. Triad’s 111 points tied the single-game tourney record also held by the 2010 Columbia squad. The combined score of 217 toppled the 1979 record of Madison vs. Lebanon (211).

Maybe the next record-setting performance, stunning upset or future college star will be seen in the 2021 tournament. For now, let’s just hope there is one.

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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