Twisters tourney slated for weekend

By Jeff Birchfield

   This weekend will feature an overload of great basketball action with the Grindstaff Automotive Group Fourth Annual Twisters Spring Classic taking place over four city gyms.
   Seventy-four games for boys and girls teams ranging from fourth grade to high school are to be played at the following sites: The Elizabethton High School Gym, T.A. Dugger Junior High, the old Elizabethton Parks & Rec building in Black Bottom and Harold McCormick Elementary School.
   "We have to thank Grindstaff Automotive -- this is their third year as the signature sponsor," said David Bush, one of the tournament's organizers. "We appreciate the city school system for all the support they have shown as well, donating facilities for the tournament."
   The program, while beneficial to all the teams participating, has a purpose of aiding the Elizabethton city school basketball teams. Started in 2001 as a way to help girls in Elizabethton get a head start on playing together, there have also been some good financial rewards for the school teams.
   "It's purely non-profit," said Bush. "All the money made goes back to support the Elizabethton girls' programs. Last year, it helped support the Elizabethton High School team camp at Coastal Carolina and the eighth-grade girls' team camp. In addition, it took care of the summer league fees for all the teams."
   Playing in those camps has been credited in assisting the Lady Cyclones run to the sub-state the past two seasons.
   "Going to the summer camps helped lay the groundwork for what happened this year," said Bush. "The teams in Middle Tennessee are playing basketball nine or ten months out of the year. The Twisters saw what other programs were doing like the Bristol Swoosh and the East Tennessee Pride.
   "This gives an opportunity for the players to keep a basketball in their hands. They can learn good fundamentals and you can i.d. kids that have a love for the game."
   Another of the chief organizers of the event is Doug Fritz, who laid out the bracketing and has done much of the promotion for the tournament. He got the word out on the internet and in newspapers across East Tennessee. That publicity paid off with a strong field of teams, who are guaranteed at least three games over the weekend.
   Girls teams consisting of players from championship-winning programs like South Greene and Mitchell County, N.C. are signed up as well as teams from Knoxville, Chattanooga and Virginia.
   Maryville's Tennessee Thunder is a former AAU state champion team and the boys side features the talented Knoxville Area Youth Association team.
   "There are more girls teams than boys, but we have a field of good teams," said Bush. "There is a reputation for a high quality of basketball in this area. You see Unaka do what they did and it makes people take notice. Their boys won the state championship and their girls made it to the state playoffs."
   Many former prep stars in Carter County are a part of this tournament, serving as coaches. Former Unaka all-stater and current Lees-McRae star Aaron Dugger will be on the sidelines helping the 14 and under Twisters team. Hampton Lady Bulldog legend Alice Peters will coach the 14-under boys' team.
   Other Carter County hoops standouts involved with the boys' teams include former Elizabethton High School coach Len Dugger, former Happy Valley star Tim Stanley and basketball referee C.Y. Peters.
   The girls' side for the Twisters teams has ex-EHS and Western Carolina star Lori Wilson with the high schoolers, Jeff Anderson and Jon Barnett coaching the 13-under team, Jeremy Simerly with the 12-under group and Mark Hyatt with the 11-under females. The trio of Tim Holdren, Tim Sams and Jackie Bowling will be working the sidelines for the girls' fourth grade team.
   Former Milligan star Will Ratliff will be testing his coaching skills with the Shooting Stars team based out of Johnson City.
   "All the coaches are volunteers," said Bush. "You are going to see a lot of people donating their time this weekend. We have TSSAA officials calling the games. You are never going to run a perfect tournament, but we've tried to learn every year to get even better."
   Tournament T-shirts are for sale for $10 each. Games start this Friday at 5 p.m. at T.A. Dugger and are played at the various sites until Sunday afternoon's championship games.
   Drop by tournament headquarters at the high school and $7 will but a tournament pass for the entire weekend, good at all sites. If you are interested in only one session, those tickets are $3 for adults. Children 12 and under can attend for only a dollar.