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MCL tournament faithful react to change of venue in 2015

1/19/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

The special illusion enhancing the Mid-Continent League's semifinals and finals for 40 years faded Saturday as attendees learned the tournament is moving to WaKeeney in 2015.

It is unclear whether the MCL will return to Fort Hays State University's Gross Memorial Coliseum in 2016. The college's basketball schedule could not accommodate the MCL next year.

While other mid-season tournaments are held in high school gyms, MCL members knew they had a weekend every January on the big stage. GMC lent the high school tournament an atmosphere associated with collegiate competitions.

The athletes trotted around the indoor track in their warmup gear. The announcer's voice reverberated throughout the coliseum that sits nearly 7,000. The MCL contest did not draw max capacity, but spectators' connection to the athletes suggests the competition was more than a game defined by crowd numbers.

Debbie Junkermeier, Plainville, said she was center for Plainville High School's basketball team more than 30 years ago, and she played in the MCL tournament all four years. Her daughter, Kim, is a junior at the high school and has played as center in the tournament for three years.

"It's a tradition, and it's going to be kind of weird that it's not going to happen anymore," Debbie said.

Competing inside GMC elevates the game's intensity for many of the young athletes.

"My daughter always said, when you're on the floor playing, no matter what the score is, you're always excited," Debbie said.

Kim said moving the tournament loses some of its luster.

"Mainly the feeling of wanting to play here," Kim said. "Like I guess, WaKeeney, you play there if you play away ... we're just playing at a regular gym, feels like we're back in junior high playing for the MCEL."

Chuck Decker, Smith Center, said the weekend tournament was a family tradition.

"I've had four of my kids play in this tournament down here, so it's just been kind of a tradition that we come down to Hays and Gross," Decker said. "We're going to miss that; everyone's kind of down about that."

Jared Casey, a sixth-grader at Sacred Heart Grade School in Plainville, said he had hoped to compete at the coliseum when he reached college.

"I kind of wanted to play in a university, get some experience if I play basketball when I'm older," Casey said.

Standing on the sidelines a few feet away from where she competed as a teenager, Debbie reflected on the tournament's change of venue.

"I just wish we could be able to keep the tradition going, but I know everything comes to an end sometime," she said.