ENID, Okla. —
There’s so much instability among conferences in college sports today.
Who would have thought 20 years ago Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado wouldn’t be in the Big Eight?
Oops, make that the Big 12.
Which is why this week is so refreshing.
The Skeltur Conference basketball tournament tips off Thursday with the same field it had when I first came to the Enid News & Eagle in 1978-79.
The only real change over that time was Kremlin-Hillsdale coming in for a couple of years and then invitee Dover going out.
Dover and Cimarron, which used to be just invitees, are full-fledged members of the conference now.
It is unlikely a future NBA or Division I star will be performing at the Mabee Center. Might be lucky though to catch a future junior college or state college player.
But that doesn’t matter.
It’s the most personal of athletic events — small high schools — most in the same county — going against each other as they have since grade school.
The fans in the stands really don’t need a program, except maybe as a souvenir. They have seen the same kids since they were in grade school, too.
The kids might work in the same grocery store or work the wheat harvest today. It’s a pure rivalry that dates back generations. You know Cimarron won’t trade a player to Garber over salary cap considerations ... there are people that have played for more than one school, but many are lifers in that school system.
Check the roster and one should find at least one player whose father or mother or grandparents or even great-grandparents played in the tournament, which started in the days of Calvin Coolidge’s presidency. Heck, the late congressman Happy Camp played for Waukomis in the early days of the Skeltur Tournament. Think about how many generations that goes back.
The Skeltur is one of the few activities where one kid can be on the basketball court one night and playing in the band the next. Maybe even the same night.
Small schools offer an opportunity for athletes to explore all of their talents.
A female player may lead her team to a championship and then be a cheerleader in the boys championship game.
One hopes if the tournament returns to Mark Price Arena, the bands return to the stage. It adds atmosphere.
The competition goes beyond the basketball court.
In the days when there were only six teams, there was a competition to see who would have the best hospitality room.
The food was delicious. One former News & Eagle staffer took his dinner break at the Skeltur. He wasn’t alone.
One could almost swear some people never left the hospitality room. There’s nothing like home-cooking, instead of having it catered. Steve Hoffsommer, who played in the tournament for Kremlin-Hillsdale in the 1960s, said he would like to find out how many couples met at the Skeltur. It would bring together kids from almost all the schools in Garfield County. Everyone knew everyone else. It was the place to be, especially with all guys being in prime time.
One misses the tournament being played over six days — four a night. There was time for the lineups to be announced over the public address sysem. The tournament might get behind by an hour, but this week is time for the kids to get recognition and play in the “big city.’’ One hopes Convention Hall (a.k.a. Mark Price) will be the home again for the Skeltur. The Mabee Center is a good place to play, but it doesn’t have the tradition of holding more than 40 Skelturs (Skeltur came to Enid in 1963).
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.