This year’s “Hitchcock’s Challenge” high school basketball tournament has been just that, a challenge.
The event, which was started in 1994 by Florida Hall of Fame Coach Rick Swain, has had to overcome a venue change, teams dropping out, and COVID-19.
The tournament, which will be held Dec. 27-30 in Alachua, is organized by Santa Fe boys basketball coach Glen Banks, who took over as coach of the Raiders last season after Elliot Harris stepped down.
Once you become the head coach at Santa Fe you take it over, so Banks is in his second year organizing the event.
Ten years ago, in 2012, the tournament expanded from an 8-team tournament to a 16-team field.
Banks schedules the teams, which has been tough in its own right, but he has also dealt with another setback.
“Legacy flooded, so this year we have to move it back to Santa Fe High School,” Banks said. “They’re replacing the floor as we speak. There are only two courts available and we can’t play on the main court.”
The Legacy Park Multipurpose Center won’t be at full capacity until February.
Banks is facing another hurdle with this year’s event.
“I had 16 teams but there is no clause that you can put in to say, ‘hey, if you don’t attend you lose money,’ so people can drop out of your tournament at any time,” he said. “I had a couple of teams drop so finding teams to replace those teams is the hardest part.”
He said that once the teams are in place the tournament runs smoothly.
As of Friday, Dec. 16, Banks had 14 teams and was still hoping to get 16 teams.
In the past, the tournament has included both boys and girls. However, Banks confirmed there would be no girls tournament this year.
“I tried to put a girls tournament together,” he said. “I could only round up about five teams. There were too many girls who lost too many games in a 4-day span, so they didn’t want to do that. There are so many other tournaments going on.”
It may be a blessing in disguise after Legacy flooded.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Banks said.
As if there weren’t enough challenges for the 2022 event, last year there was a COVID-19 outbreak during the tournament.
“Right at the end of the tournament — it started on the girls side —luckily we squeezed in the championship game but a lot of the other games we had to cancel,” Banks said. “After that, a lot of guys from my team got sick so we had limited practice with limited players. We tried to do everything, wore masks, wash hands, it’s just at that point being in that setting there were a lot of variables.”
One concern this year is that there have been both flu and COVID-19 symptoms going around. Banks said if he has a player who doesn’t feel well, has a fever, or is coughing, he doesn’t let him come to practice.
“You have to overexaggerate because you don’t know with all of the different variables of things that are out now, the flu can put you out, COVID, there’s a mix of both, you’ve got to be careful,” he said. “It’s hard to tell. You take it day by day. It’s a learning process for everybody.”
If there is a positive with regards to sickness, they’ve been through this before so they’ll “know how to navigate,” he added.
Banks doesn’t have to get to 16 teams but it would make for an easier bracket. He said he would attempt to try to add two more teams up until Sunday (Dec. 18).
The “Hitchcock’s Challenge” is a format that includes some of the best teams from North Florida and South Florida. State champions and NBA players have been on display at the tournament, including Kevarius Hayes (University of Florida), Ernest Ross (N.C. State), Cornelius Ingram (NFL), James Shuler (Winthrop), Jamari Wheeler (Penn State), and Corey Walden (NBA), among many others.
This Christmas tournament would not be possible without the Alachua community as well as their community partners, especially Hitchcock’s Markets. And although Banks is the one in charge of organizing the event, there are countless people involved in helping make the event a successful one.
Some of the top teams in this year’s tournament includes Nease (Pont Vedra), which finished 19-8 last season and made the 6A state playoffs, 4A regional quarterfinalist Killian (Miami), 5A regional semifinalist Godby (Tallahassee), which dropped down to 4A this year, and Mount Pisgah Christian of Johns Creek, Georgia, which is ranked top five in the state in the Division A DI rankings.
Banks said that a lot of area teams wanted to get away this year and travel.
The local teams participating include host Santa Fe, Eastside, Suwannee (Live Oak) and Fort White.
“I really want to make this tournament one of the best tournaments in North Central Florida,” Banks said. “I’m talking to people and wanting to know, ‘why wouldn’t you come back, what did you like, what can we change,’ they’ve been doing it for 26 years so it’s been successful and I really want to keep that going or try to make it better.”