By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Are you ready for some local basketball?
The hoops season is already starting for some Christian schools and academies. A Princeton-area private institution is getting a jump on most of West Virginia’s public high school boys teams with the first Mercer Christian Academy Hoops Classic, running Thursday through Saturday.
Sheila Otey, coach of the Mercer Christian girls team, said the Lady Cavaliers are gearing up to show their newly-developed skills in their home gym on Halls Ridge Road.
When she told them about the creation of the tournament, she said, “They were excited. Some of them of course were very nervous. Last year was their first year of playing basketball.”
“They actually went to camps over the summer. You could see right away, they had heart for the game. You can teach fundamentals, but you can’t teach heart. ... We’ve had some kids who have stepped up and improved their game.”
Both the girls and boys teams from MCA will be competing on the second and third days of the tournament. Otey said about the boys' team, “They were really excited, since we’ve not done a tournament for many years. ... They’re excited to be a part of it.”
Otey said the tournament originated because “the principal [Eddie Nicewander] thought he would like to do something different in order to get the sports program going again, particularly the girls program, which had been dormant for several years.”
There was one guiding principle that the organizers stayed true to, Otey said.
“We want to make sure that God is put first, above basketball,” she said. “We believe if we keep God first, everything else will fall into place.”
The double-elimination tournament begins at 4:30 p.m. Thursday with the boys of Mountain State Christian from Oak Hill and Rainelle Christian from Greenbrier County competing.
The other game for Thursday evening will be a girls’ matchup of Mountain State Christian and Seneca Trail Christian, from the Lewisburg area.
The Mercer Christian girls take on the winner of that game on Friday at 2 p.m. The MCA boys play Mountain State Christian at 4 p.m. Friday. A losers’ bracket game is set for 7 p.m.
Saturday’s action starts at 9 a.m. with a losers’ bracket girls game and continues through the day to weed out the participants until the two finalists meet in a 7 p.m. championship game.
Otey said the tournament “gives us an idea of what teams we’re going to face in the season. It kind of lets you know where you stand as a team, what you have to work on.”
All of the schools are able to play because they are not participants in the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, like most public schools in the state. Girls teams in the WVSSAC may begin play this evening; boys teams may not compete in regular-season contests until next Tuesday.
Some of Mercer Christian Academy’s students have brothers or sisters in public schools, Otey said, and the tournament could give families a chance to watch MCA basketball without dashing off to another game.
“At least they’ll have the opportunity to check out a game and see that Mercer Christian is back.”
Tournament visitors to the gym, attached to Johnston Chapel Baptist Church, will see a colorful new logo at midcourt. A new scorer’s table with backlit panels is also on display.
The dressing rooms have been renovated, with dynamic MCA logos on the lockers, a fresh paint job and even curtains in the windows.
What is not immediately visible is an addition to the sports program, a weightlifting coach. That job has been filled by Amanda Presley.
Otey said, “That shows our players have been working hard and getting better. It (weightlifting) builds confidence in a player, and it encourages unity. They walk as one; they encourage each other, every step of the way.”
The students’ weightlifting should help with their strength and stamina, she said.
Some of her squad members have had a long road to climb to get the techniques of basketball down and be able to play at the expected level. The older girls in particular now feel ready to take on the season, she said.
“They see the light at the end of the tunnel. They’ve learned the game and they’re ready to go,” she said.
Another area boys team, from Pipestem Christian Academy, will hit the road this week to travel to Pensacola, Fla., to compete in the Pensacola Christian College Invitational Tournament on Thursday and Friday.
— Contact Tom Bone at firstname.lastname@example.org