The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

January 14, 2010

Skeltur adjusts to new site

ENID — For the first time in 46 years, the Skeltur Conference Tournament is being held somewhere other than Mark Price Arena (a.k.a. Convention Hall).

Forget about this year’s participating players not being born before then — some of their parents hadn’t even been born before 1964. Nine presidents have sat in office since the Skeltur Tournament was anywhere but downtown Enid.

The longest continuously running high school basketball tournament in the state of Oklahoma moved into its new home, the Chisholm Trail Expo Center Coliseum, on Thursday. For some fans, the new arena is something they’ll have to get used to.

“It doesn’t seem like high school basketball here. It’s more like pro ball,” said Garber fan Ray Postier, who has attended the Skeltur Tournament for deca-des. “This seems like an arena that bigger schools play in.”

Indeed, the Coliseum holds exponentially more fans than small schools gyms, and it is more than double the size of Mark Price Arena. During weekday afternoon games, such as the ones Postier watched Thursday, the arena seems hollow and cavernous.

Randy Schneider, president of the Skeltur Conference board of directors, said he faced a “Catch-22” after the city shut down Mark Price Arena last year, because it failed to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said the arena was a dream spot, of sorts, despite the fact that the arena’s seating failed to provide fans with comfortable leg room.

“All the people I’ve talked to have had mixed reactions,” said Schneider. “They’re sad it’s not at Mark Price because it’s always been there, but they won’t miss those seats.”

Schneider said four high school gyms — Kremlin-Hillsdale, Waukomis, Cimarron and Drummond — were considered before the Skeltur Conference board decided to hold the tournament at the Expo Center.

He said the Expo Center doesn’t quite provide the same atmosphere as a smaller gym, but he also wanted to ensure the new arena had the capacity to hold large crowds on Championship Saturday.

Not all reactions to the Coliseum, which also hosts the KOFM Prep Classic, the Cherokee Strip Tournament and often the area basketball playoffs, were negative.

Pond-Creek Hunter girls coach Tasha Turney said she prefers the larger venue to the old downtown arena. She played at the Coliseum while she was suiting up for the Medford Cardinals early in the 2000s.

“My girls were excited to come here and play,” said Turney.

 “This is one of the gyms we may play in during the playoffs.”

Turney said she liked that the Coliseum provides “more room to breathe.” She didn’t like the fans sitting so near to the court at Mark Price Arena.

Mike Kaiser, who played for Covington-Douglas during the Skeltur Tournament in the mid-1970s, said he enjoyed the old venue because of the fans’ close proximity to the court.

“At Mark Price Arena, the fans felt like they were part of the game, because they were right down there on the floor,” he said. “It will take a while to get used to this, but it’s nice.”

Schneider said the conference didn’t sign a long-term deal with the Expo Center to host the tournament in the future. However, he also said playing the tournament at one of the participating schools is a “last resort” option.

There have been rumored plans for a renovation of the downtown arena, but, in the meantime, Schneider and the rest of the Skeltur board will be taking it one year at a time.

“The main thing is that we get Skeltur-quality basketball,” Schneider said.

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