When play tips off this week in the Columbia County Christmas Tournament, forget peace on earth and good will toward men.
The Friday and Saturday event at Greenbrier High School will feature a basketball free-for-all, and the losers will definitely feel Scrooged.
"It's going to be a war," Harlem Bulldogs coach Kim Chambers said. "Everyone better put their hard hats on."
The Columbia County Christmas Tournament is in its eighth year, and along with becoming a holiday staple for local players and fans, the tourney has become one of the highlights of the entire hoops season.
When county teams set goals, region titles and state playoff berths are only a notch above claiming a Christmas Tournament championship.
Evans High School's Lauren Middleton controls the basketball as Lakeside's Jamie Lake defends. The Lady Panthers beat the Lady Knights in that game earlier this month, and the teams meet again Friday in the first round of the Columbia County Christmas Tournament.
Photo by Mike Howell
"All the coaches are committed to holding this tournament, and every year it becomes more and more important," Evans Knights coach Kevin Kenny said. "It's for bragging rights, and winning the county tournament can give the kids confidence for region games."
The Greenbrier boys have taken the past two Christmas titles, and the Lakeside Lady Panthers also enter as the two-time defending champs.
Things have changed on the court, though: the Wolfpack's Eric Marshall, who earned tournament MVP honors the last two years, has graduated; likewise, Lakeside star Toya Coard, who led her team's title runs, has moved to college ball.
Losing Coard hasn't slowed Lakeside. The Lady Panthers already have beaten Harlem, Evans and Greenbrier this season, and are the favorites this week at the Brierpatch.
There's a different story in the boys' bracket.
"It's wide open," Kenny said.
Lakeside has beaten Evans and Harlem, but the Panthers lost at Greenbrier last weekend. Harlem, meanwhile, has knocked off Evans and Greenbrier during the early stages of the 2003-04 season.
"Looking at it right now, Evans is coming on, and I know Greenbrier is not happy that we beat them," Chambers said.
During the tournaments's seven-year history, the Harlem Bulldogs are the only county team that has never secured a Christmas crown. If the Dogs want to break that trend, they'll have to get by Greenbrier in first-round action Friday.
"Harlem is a 3-A school, so we're kind of the little kids in the county," Chambers said. "When we beat Evans, Lakeside or Greenbrier, it's a big deal. We're at a disadvantage, so this year I'm taking a different approach to the tournament. All I talk about now is playing hard."
Columbia County Christmas Tournament
Game Schedule at the Brierpatch
Friday: 4 p.m. girls, Lakeside vs. Evans; 5:30 p.m. boys, Lakeside vs. Evans; 7 p.m. girls, Harlem vs. Greenbrier; 8:30 p.m. boys, Harlem vs. Greenbrier.
Saturday: 11 a.m., girls consolation game; 12:30 p.m., boys consolation game; 2 p.m., girls championship game; 3:30 p.m., boys championship game.
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