News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Given to Fly

December 30, 2008

Given to Fly: A classic in every sense of the word

TERRE HAUTE — What tournament director and co-founder Gary Fears had in mind when creating the tournament came to fruition Tuesday. Marshall, with an enrollment of 438 students, became the smallest school to win the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic in the ninth season of the tourney.

Bloomfield was runner-up twice, Turkey Run once and Marshall bounced back from a runner-up finish and a 64-33 loss to Terre Haute South in last season’s title game. The Lions came back on a mission this year, avenging that loss to coach Mike Saylor’s Braves team that he feels can compete with any team in the country. The Braves did defeat Lawrence North, a team ranked among the top 32 in the nation by rivals.com.

Marshall pulled away from Terre Haute North on Tuesday for a 64-48 triumph.

“It feels great to get over that hump,” said Marshall coach Tom Brannan. “It’s all about the players. Players and effort.”

Marshall’s current enrollment isn’t far removed from when it won the original Wabash Valley Tournament in consecutive seasons in 1971-72. According to Dean Kendall’s book “The Wabash Valley High School Basketball Tournament,” Marshall had 416 students in 1972, the last year for the old tournament, which grew to as large as 128 teams during its span from 1916 to 1972.

The new version includes just a fraction of those teams — the 16 allowed by the IHSAA in a tournament — but that doesn’t take away from the excitement that has built around the new Classic.

Fans were turned away from Terre Haute South on Saturday and Monday as the late-night matchups approached tip-off.

“It’s the way I remember the old Wabash Valley for many years,” Fears said. “We wish we had a bigger gymnasium, we don’t. We love the full gym and the atmosphere that creates. When class basketball came into the state of Indiana, we lost that. The kids and players love to perform in front of a full house, and that’s what this tournament’s re-created.”

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Given to Fly
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