GROVE — For the first time in five years, Grove High School is back in the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M High School Basketball Tournament in Miami.

The tournament kicked off on Thursday, Jan. 18 and continues through Saturday, Jan. 20.

It’s a special place for Lady Ridgerunner coach Richard Bassett: he was at Picher-Cardin during a successful run by the now-defunct school district.

The past five years, Grove has gone to a tournament at Dewey.

“It’s a lot closer,” Bassett said. “We were tired of driving one hour 40 minutes to a tournament, so we just decided to come back to NEO this year.”

This will be the 45th time the Lady Red has been in the tournament over its 73-year history.

However, it’s the 53rd time for Grove’s boys, which was in the field when the event in its current format was launched in 1946.

“It’s a good place,” Bassett said. “I enjoy it. I get to see all the old friends that used to come watch us play all the time when we were at Picher. I enjoy going over there and playing.”

The 4A No. 16 Lady Ridgerunners enter the tournament with a 9-1 record.

They are in a Girls Gold bracket that includes defending champion Edmond North, which is ranked 14th in Class 6A as well as 5A No. 11 Coweta, 5A No. 12 Tulsa Rogers, 4A No. 18 Roland, Miami and the Green Country Defenders.

Grove faced the 10-6 Defenders in Thursday’s opener.

“This will be the toughest tournament we've played in for several years,” Bassett said. "It will be much better competition than the Dewey tournament. The teams we play at NEO will prepare us for better people.”

Bassett served as head coach at PCHS for eight years after Rod Graves moved to Quapaw.

Bassett became an assistant at Grove in the summer of 2006 after things started to unravel with the Picher-Cardin school district.

He was promoted to head girls’ coach at Grove in 2008.

The Lady Gorillas won 11 NEO titles, including six between 2001 and 2006.

“We had a lot of success,” Bassett said of his stint at Picher-Cardin. “We had some good teams there for several years. It was disappointing when it all came about.”

The Lady Gorillas were expected to be a contender for Class A state honors in 2007-08, but things came unraveled after a Corp of Engineers report came out that said 86 percent of the buildings in the town were in danger of a collapse.

Several area schools refused to allow teams to play in Picher.

The fact that the town was on an EPA Superfund list didn’t help matters.

As the 2006 school year wound to a close, a decision by the Picher-Cardin school board and the OSSAA allowed athletes to transfer to other schools without any loss of eligibility.

Near the end of June 2006, the school board voted to eliminate all extracurricular activities after athletes and their families began to move elsewhere.

Bassett opted for Grove.

The Lady Gorillas’ final game in the NEO tournament turned out to be the 2006 Girls Red final, where Picher defeated Marion C. Early of Morrisville, Missouri, 57-51.

The last game in school history was a 70-59 loss to Howe in the area consolation finals.

“I feel like I got cheated out of a year,” Bassett told the Grove Sun in a 2012 interview. “I coached all those kids from fourth grade on up and really felt like I got cheated out of that one year.

"It takes a lot to get there and we might not have made, but I had the tools and I had put the time in and had done all the work to get there, and had it all yanked out from under me.”

The school district was dissolved in 2009 and the town ceased operating a short time later.

The Grove boys are in a Boys Gold bracket that includes defending champ Tulsa McLain, 4A No. 8 Roland, 5A No. 9 Claremore, the Green Country Defenders, Miami, Tulsa Rogers and the Green Country Defenders JV team.

The Ridgerunners, coached by Zach Trimble, opened tournament play against Tulsa Rogers.

The 48-team field included five champions: are the Welch, Fairland girls and Edmond North girls and Tulsa McLain and Nowata boys.

Daily tickets are $9 for adults and $8 for students and senior citizens.

A tournament pass, good for all 72 games at all three sites, is $20.

The tournament’s major sponsor is American Bus Sales of Collinsville.