Hosting a district basketball tournament takes unseen work

Jumping through hoops

Hosting a Missouri State High School Activities Association basketball tournament requires a cadre of volunteers and workers. Russellville Schools have relied on Patty Smith, center, to work the scoreboard and books since the 1980s.

Hosting a Missouri State High School Activities Association basketball tournament requires a cadre of volunteers and workers. Russellville Schools have relied on Patty Smith, center, to work the scoreboard and books since the 1980s. Photo by Michelle Brooks.

Hospitality was the name of the behind-the-scenes game at Russellville High School this week, where the girls and boys Class 2 District 8 basketball tournament has been held.

Hosting the Missouri State High School Activities Association event comes with more responsibilities, as well as more teams and fans.

“It takes a big team to host this,” said language arts teacher Christina Hess, who worked the pass gate for buses. “They place people where they’ll be the most useful.”

Having the manpower to do that begins with a willing community.

“This is my first year to be here for the tournament,” said paraprofessional Justin Forsythe, who helped at the scoring table during boys games. “I told (activities director Lucas) Branson that I would help with the book and clock.”

Playing basketball all of his life, Forsythe said it was a job he knew was important and that he was qualified to fill.

“It’s great the staff comes together to bring such a great event to our school,” Forsythe said. “People see we take pride in running a good tournament and offer a good environment to play.”

That goodwill extends to parents, many of whom worked the concession stand this week.

Throughout the school year, the Russellville Booster Club hosts seasonal concession stands at each of the athletic venues. It is a major source for their fundraising.

But for a district tournament, President Renee Bungart has pulled in all the resources she can.

With games beginning at 4 p.m., the concession stand volunteers were cooking hamburgers and hot dogs by 2:30 p.m. Six volunteers work 90-minute shifts for 14 games, which equals more than 125 hours. That doesn’t include the pickups for keeping the drinks and snacks stocked, cleaning up afterward and any other duties.

“It’s a challenge,” Bungart admitted. “But most people knew when districts was coming and texted or called ahead to volunteer.”

Then there are a few “permanent” workers that organizers could depend on, like Patty Smith, who has worked the scoreboard and books since the 1980s.

“I’ll do it as much as they want me to be here,” Smith said. “I love to watch the kids. I have the best seat in the house.”

During a basketball season, she spends an average of 10 hours a week at the table.

“Districts are crazy,” she compared.

In addition to more than doubling her hours, the official tournament has its own procedures to follow, she said.

“You know what happened in a game when they’re done; you’ve seen the whole process,” Smith said.

The officials on the court are a critical component. With all Missouri schools of the same class hosting their tournaments simultaneously, the state association helps with assignments through an application and draft process.

That alleviates a huge weight from hosting schools, said Branson, who has been officiating at another site this week.

“It would be a nightmare, if everyone was making those calls,” he said.

When the workers or the officials take a break, the hospitality room — located in Russellville’s music room — is set with warm comfort foods, sweet baked goods and always a healthy option. It’s open to anyone working at the tournament, such as coaches, bus drivers, administrators and the media.

Debbie Strickfaden, food services director, has started on the hospitality room meals as soon as the school day lunches are over this week.

Ballplayers and cheerleaders pitched in with donated desserts. And several area restaurants donated meat and sides.

As others have said, “districts is a whole lot bigger deal” than a nightly game or a smaller tournament.

An important key to a smooth tournament is safety.

The Russellville-Lohman Fire Protection District provides volunteers to help guide parking.

“They don’t have to worry about the safety outside because we’re there; it eases their mind and frees up their people,” said young volunteer Noah Stubinger.

But the most important work during this week of games probably comes from the custodial staff.

Between each half, they sweep the game floor. And they monitor the trash cans and bathrooms. That’s just during the playing time.

After fans have left the building, guys like John Mueller are making sure the space is as clean as it was before the night began.

They do this in addition to their regular daily duties, tending to the rest of the school facilities.

Mueller has the unique perspective, however, of coming from a high school of 2,300 students, where as many as 21 schools might turn out for a day’s track meet.

“People around here are pretty neat,” Mueller said. “It’s an ongoing process; people make messes, and we clean them up.”

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