B y Derek Liebig
A local hoops tradition returns to the hard court later this week.
The Whitehall Holiday Tournament will be held Thursday, Dec. 26, and Saturday, Dec. 28, at Whitehall High School.
The tournament features four varsity teams and four games (eight and eight if you include the junior varsity ranks) over the course of two days. Whitehall, Fort Edward, Fair Haven (Vt.) and Poultney (Vt.)—all of which participated in last year’s tournament—will all compete for local hoops supremacy.
The tournament, now in its 18th year, is the brainchild of Whitehall athletic director and longtime boys basketball coach Keith Redmond.
“I started it after my first year as coach,” Redmond said. “I went to the Granville (American Legion) tournament and decided to start our own tournament here in Whitehall.”
Over the years, the tournament has grown into the largest event on the local winter sports calendar and is well received by opposing teams.
“We enjoy coming over,” Bob Prenevost, Fair Haven Head Coach Bob Prenevost said. “It’s (the tournament) run the right way. Keith does a great job.”
“It’s a great way to celebrate the holidays. You have friends on both teams (Fair Haven and Poultney) and it brings together family, friends and fans during the holidays to watch some basketball,” Alfonso Howlett, Poultney head coach said.
The tournament opens at 3 p.m. on Thursday with a pair of junior varsity games: Fair Haven vs. Poultney and Fort Edward vs. Whitehall.
At 6 p.m., the hometown Railroaders take on Fort Edward in an Adirondack League game. Fort Edward defeated Whitehall 81-65 earlier this month behind the trio of Ryan Collier, Chris Boucher and Dylan Heroux, who combined for 69 points.
Whitehall has gotten off to a 1-5 start, although they’ve played two defending state champions (Lake George and Argyle) and a strong Hartford team. Fort Edward was 2-3 as of last Thursday.
The tournament’s opening night is capped by an intrastate rivalry between Fair Haven and Poultney, two schools separated by less than seven miles, but because of enrollment differences, don’t get to play during Vermont’s regular season.
“Everybody looks forward to it—the cross-town rivalry,” Howlett said.
Fair Haven, which won last year’s tournament, is coming off an 11-11 season in which they lost to Vergennes, the eventual Division II state champions, in the quarterfinals of last year’s state tournament.
The Slaters return only four players—two starters—from last year’s team and have gotten off to a 1-1 start this season.
“We start two sophomores, one junior and two seniors. We have five sophomores on the varsity so we’re fairly young,” Prenevost said.
That youth, coupled with the fact the team lacks much height, will mean the team will have to play good defense to be competitive, Prenevost said.
“We’re going to have to get out and defend in the full court and when we get the ball we have to hang on to it. We’re going to need to take care of the ball and play close to the vest because we don’t shoot well. We have to be solid fundamentally,” he said.
The tournament is a sort of homecoming for Prenevost, who taught history at Whitehall and coached the Railroaders, including Redmond.
“The kids all know each other and it’s nice to see some friendly faces and coach against players whose parents played for me,” he said.
Poultney is coming off a 12-8 season in which the team lost to Hazen in the first round of the Division III state tournament.
Howlett said Poultney, which is off to a 0-2 start, is a relatively young team with only three seniors and several sophomores and juniors.
“The players are trying to figure out their roles and how they can contribute,” Howlett said. “Because of the late start, we still haven’t gotten everything in and are making adjustments.”
The team will look to be strong on defense.
“Our D is going to help us score points in transition,” he said. “We’ve gotten off to a bit of a rough start but I’ve seen lots of improvement and we have 18 games left.”
Following Thursday’s games, play resumes on Saturday with the junior varsity consolation and championship games at 3 and 4:30 p.m., respectively. The varsity consolation game will begin at 6 p.m. and the varsity championship game will be at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $3 for adults, $2 for children and $1 for anyone younger than 10 years old.