Energy Classic tournament has probably played its last matches | Local
James Chick and Dave Olsen both attended the first Energy Classic committee meeting 25 years ago.
Soon the two men will participate in the last of the committee.
Both Chick and Olsen were instrumental in organizing the annual Energy Classic Holiday basketball tournament. In its peak, the event featured a handful of nationally ranked high school basketball teams from across the country, including Campbell County High School.
The tournament was canceled this year for the second year in a row for several reasons, the main one being COVID-19. But the tournament isn’t just on a two-year hiatus, Chick and Olsen think the tournament has a very good chance of never being played again.
âI think he probably just took his course,â Olsen said. “Unless other people step in and decide they want to try starting over, I don’t think it’s likely ever going to happen again.”
The annual eight-team tournament began in 1996 to give Campbell County more home games during its period of dominance in basketball on the boys ‘and girls’ side. The Camels were limited to just five home conference games in one season because no one wanted to travel to Gillette to participate in a non-conference competition, Olsen said.
The tournament was a way to attract Gillette some of the best competitions in the country to participate in a three-day event. The tournament was played during the week between Christmas and New Years.
The original goal of the Energy Classic Committee was to recruit schools from neighboring states. But Olsen and Chick have run into issues with the various state restrictions on schools for competition during the holidays.
Schools in Montana, Idaho, South Dakota and Colorado have all been excluded due to non-compete restrictions between Christmas and New Years, Chick said. Another hurdle was finding schools willing to sacrifice three games from their schedule to come and play in the tournament since teams are limited to a certain number of games in a season.
âWe eventually started looking further and further and recruiting teams from Las Vegas and Oregon, Washington and California and even Canada,â Chick said. “My God, one year we even had three of the top 10 women’s teams in the country.”
The tournament was created during the heyday of high school basketball in Gillette. From 1994 to 1998, the Gillette Girls won five consecutive state championships. The boys won six in a row from 1992 to 1997.
For years, the Energy Classic has sought out some of the best teams in the United States, often hosting nationally ranked teams. Usually the committee would invite teams west of the Mississippi River, but there have been teams from as far away as Florida and Washington, DC, that have made the trip in the past.
One year, Olsen remembers when the spectators were treated to a confrontation between the two best teams in the country. Lynwood High School in Lynwood, Calif., Ended up beating Northside High School in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the Energy Classic championship.
Lynwood was undefeated and the nation’s No. 1 women’s basketball team at the end of the season, while Northside finished No. 2 with their only loss in the tournament to Gillette.
Gillette welcomed individual players like Sabrina Ionescu and Luke Babbitt into the tournament. Ionescu was the No.1 pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft and Babbitt was drafted No.16 in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft.
The competition at the tournament drew tremendous appeal to basketball fans in Gillette and Wyoming. Local residents would use the vacation to watch the country’s top high school basketball talent with their families, Chick said.
âPeople were planning their vacations around Christmas just so they could come back to Gillette and watch and be a part of the tournament,â Chick said. âThey would sit and watch basketball all day. It was just a really phenomenal event for many years. “
The dark future of the tournament
The future of the Energy Classic is anything but decided.
Last year’s event was said to have been the 24th annual tournament before it was canceled due to COVID-19. This year’s tournament was canceled for a similar reason: the committee has no one to invite.
The states with some of the strictest COVID-19 restrictions are the states that were previously represented at the Energy Classic. Most schools in California, Oregon, and Nevada haven’t played a full season of basketball in two years.
This is one of the reasons why Chick and Olsen decided to step down and dissolve the Energy Classic committee. The committee will probably have one last meeting to recognize what it has been able to accomplish over the past 25 years.
âWe never wanted to see the tournament go away,â said Chick. âOur plan was to keep this thing going forever and pass the torch to someone else.
“We never really found the right people to pass the torch to.”
Besides COVID-19, the committee also faced financial hurdles when it came to hosting the tournament. Throughout the event, the committee covered the travel, food and accommodation costs of the teams that took part.
âWe rolled out the red carpet for all the teams that came here,â said Chick. âThat’s why they kept coming. It’s not as if Gillette, Wyoming is the vacation capital of the world in December for New Years Eve.
“We were playing tournaments in Hawaii, Arizona and everywhere else, but people chose to come here because of the quality of the tournament.”
The committee initially charged a gate fee for spectators to help with the cost of the tournament. But once the tournament began receiving a grant from the Campbell County Community Public Recreation District Mill, participation in the games became free.
The grant was significantly reduced last year due to the downturn in the local economy and the state, Chick said. Without the grant, the full cost of organizing the tournament would have fallen on the committee.
Another factor leading to the tournament being permanently canceled is the time and resources required for the event throughout the year. Chick and Olsen, along with many other members of the community, were constantly working to recruit schools and raise funds to help cover tournament expenses.
After investing 25 years of their time, Chick and Olsen both decided it was time to get away from it all for good.
âWe are both more than ready to step down,â Olsen said. “We’re having a little trouble finding the volunteers and the people who want to try to rework everything.”
While it might not be much, there is hope that the tournament will continue later. This would require a significant effort on the part of those in the community who wish to take the reins of organizing the event in the future.
âIf anyone wanted to start over, Dave and I would always be available to help somehow,â Chick said. “But it’ll just have to get someone else to step up and do all the work, because that was a lot of work.”
For now, Olsen and Chick have only fond memories of the time they spent organizing the event. The most rewarding part for both men was seeing the end product on the pitch for 23 straight years.
âNothing is everlasting,â said Olsen. âBoth high schools (CCHS and Thunder Basin) are going to play their games and everything will be fine. But we will probably no longer have this tournament in the community.
Chick was nostalgic when it came time to reflect on the real success of the tournament race.
âI am so proud of the tournaments we were able to host, the community just loved and embraced the tournament,â said Chick. âWe have had fantastic sponsorships and community support. “
The Campbell County and Thunder Basin boys and girls basketball teams will always host a non-conference tournament with out-of-state teams. The Re / MAX basketball tournament will open the season for both Gillette schools again this year. The tournament will take place from December 9 to 11.
The Bolts and Camel will be playing basketball over the Christmas break. It just won’t be in Gillette.
They will travel to the Hoop City Classic in South Dakota during the break. The matches will be played at the Corn Palace in Mitchell and the Pentagon in Sioux Falls.