AFTON — Some basketball tournaments are on and off, but for the past 28 years, the Afton Coca-Cola Classic basketball tournament has been a mainstay in northeastern Oklahoma.
The inaugural event started in 1988 with eight boy and girls teams each participating. Afton beat Grove, 44-34, for the girls championship and Chelsea edged Afton, 60-56, for the boys crown that year.
Larry Radford, the former Afton girls head basketball and Randy Gardner, the boys coach, felt the need for having a local basketball tournament.
“Grove had a tournament and Vinita had one, and they were kind of off and on,” said Gardner, now superintendent of Afton Public Schools. “We wanted to get some consistency here beside the NEO tournament. We wanted something that we and our neighboring schools didn’t have to travel very far for another tournament.”
Gardner said the tournament is financially beneficial to Afton’s athletic programs.
“The tournament is sponsored through athletics and is part of our budget we depended on each year for raising funds to support the athletic program at the school,” Gardner said. “We been able to sustain it year in and year out for the past 28 years.”
He said that Coca-Cola has helped sponsored the tournament from the first year.
“They have been instrumental in sponsoring us with drinks and snacks for the tournament, Gardner said. “We just thought that would be a unique name to put on the tournament.”
Gardner noted other sponsors help offset operating expenses for the five-day tournament.
“Each night of the hospitality room is sponsored by the vendors,” he said. “We’ll go pick up food from the vendors so we don’t have to buy all of that.”
Gardner said Jostens helps sponsor with the trophies and plaques.
“We try to cover our expense as much as we can through sponsorships,” he noted.
Most years, there has alway been eight boys and girls teams in the tournament.
“There has been times when we had six each and had to play a round-robin format,” said Gardner.
He said originally the tournament format was to play Monday through Saturday with the consolation finals on Friday and the championships on Saturday.
“We got snowed out one year so we lost a day. We liked that so we could catch our breath,” Gardner said. “Now we take off on Wednesdays.”
Gardner said it takes about 50 people to help put on the tournament.
“We have a number of our coaches and staff members that contribute their time,” he said. “We reward them by giving them a t-shirt which identifies the year of the tournament with a logo,” he said. “They help us with the clock, scorebooks, gate, hospitality room, etc. As a whole, it a pretty good response from our staff members and community support.”
Gardner said the community has been “very supportive of the tournament.”
“The school is the focal point of the community and the activities we have at the schools are primarily being introduced to the community,” he said. “Therefore, support from the community has been very good.”
The annual tournament will hold “Championship Saturday” starting off with the consolation title games at noon and 1:30 p.m., followed by the third-place games at 3 and 4:30 p.m. and capping the night with the tournament championship finals at 7 and 8:30 p.m.
Last year, Kansas ripped Chouteau, 63-28, for the girls crown and Chouteau beat Kansas for the boys title, 79-55.
“Each year, our finals have always been competitive,” Gardner said. “When you first start you try to put the stronger teams against the weaker teams, and as the tournament goes on the more competitive play each and the less competitive play each other. It turns out to be pretty good at the end.”
During the 28-year stretch on the girls side, Kansas has won seven titles since 2002, including three straight years (2006-2008). It also won in 2002, 2013 and 2014.
Afton has been to the championship game more times than any school — 12, winning the title the first year of the tournament.
After losing in the 1990 finals, Bluejacket won four titles during the decade — 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1997.
Wyandotte won its first tournament championship in 1994 and later won three consecutive titles from 1999-2001.
Picher-Cardin won two titles (1992 and 2005) and was runners up in 2004, while neighboring Quapaw has three final appearances (1992, 1993, 2012)
Fairland’s only championship appearance was in 1998, when they beat Afton.
On the boys side, Afton has reached the championship 11 times — winning four times in 1993, 1997, 2001 and 2006. Fairland won four championships (1994, 1995, 1998 and 2009), with one runner-up trophy.
Quapaw won a title in 1993, but has reached the finals twice in 2011 and 2012. Wyandotte has never won a boys title, but the Bears made the finals in 1995 and 2001.
Like the Bears, Bluejacket has never captured a boys crown. They made the final three times (1990, 1992 and 1997). Picher won consecutive titles in 1990 and 1991.