2017-'18 Season Coverage
updated: 1/4/2014 7:53 PM

Grunloh, Grayslake North truly enjoyed this Christmas

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From the tree and the ornaments to the lights and the decorations to the cut-out cookies and the carols, I love all things Christmas.

Well, almost all things.

High school holiday tournament basketball brings out the Bah-humbug in me.

In 17 years at the Daily Herald, I can count on one hand (maybe also on part of the second) the number of high quality holiday tournament basketball games I've seen. And I can't tell you how many near-empty gyms I've sat in.

I'm not sure how the host schools afford to turn on the lights during the holiday tournament season. To compensate, the ticket prices at these tournaments have skyrocketed, from $7 a ticket at one venue I visited last month, to $10 at another.

That's $30 if Mom, Dad and sister want to go see brother play in one, that's right, one, tournament game. Um, happy holidays!

Most of all, though, it is the hecticness of the holiday tournament season that really bothers me. As a mother of two kids who are about to enter the holiday basketball rat race, it makes me sad to know that a two-week Christmas break really boils down to two days of uninterrupted family time: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The holiday tournaments haven't infringed on those days. Yet.

Of course, almost every other day during break seems to be fair game for a holiday tournament game, which makes spending time with family, particularly relatives from out of the area, nearly impossible.

The Stevenson boys, for instance, were tied up all break. They played games at the seven-day Proviso West tournament before Christmas and after Christmas, and all the way through New Year's Eve, which is when they won the tournament championship over Morgan Park. Yep, the Patriots nearly rang in 2014 in west suburban Hillside.

For winter athletes, Thanksgiving is already compromised, by tournaments or games sandwiched around Turkey Day. It would be nice if the holiday tournament season didn't cut down even more on what little family time most people now have.

Perhaps the holiday tournaments could be pared down or compressed a bit. Maybe they should be eliminated altogether.

Wait. Did I just write that? Yes, I did.

But, believe it or not, I didn't corner the market on the idea of scrapping the holiday tournament rat race. That's exactly what the Grayslake North boys did this year. They went "tournament-less" this Christmas.

And, guess what? They loved it.

Cue Andy Williams. For the Knights, it indeed was "the most wonderful time of the year."

Grayslake North was left without a holiday tournament home when the Grant holiday tournament disbanded after last season. But instead of pressing and searching high and low to find a new holiday tournament, head coach Todd Grunloh decided to try something different.

He turned his holiday calendar into a series of practice days and off days. And that's it.

The Knights had a two-week break between games and Grunloh gave his players five full days off. Completely off.

"I've absolutely loved this, and so have our kids and our families," Grunloh said. "Right before break, when we laid out the holiday schedule for our kids, they were in shock. It was fun to see how they reacted. They kept talking about how awesome it was to have some time off. They've loved it, and I know in 13 years, this is the best break I've ever had."

With two small children under 5 years old, Grunloh has appreciated the extra family time during a season that is so extremely special to young kids. Ditto for Grunloh's assistant Tim Hough, the father of five kids.

Heading into the break, Grunloh was apprehensive about such a big gap between games. Would his players get rusty, or out-of-synch?

Quite the opposite has proved to be true.

"A lot of other coaches I've talked to think I'm crazy for not playing over the holidays, because that's just what you do, and I guess I wasn't sure I made the right decision about not playing until I saw our first practice over break," Grunloh said. "It was unreal. Everyone was so recharged and focused and rejuvenated and everyone was really into it. Every practice since then has been so competitive and we've gotten so much out of our time.

"I think we take for granted sometimes how much time we take away from kids who play sports, and how much we take them away from their families. The time off our kids got over break was the best thing for them. They have been so energized since then and I think that's going to help us down the road."

Getting back to basics should help the Knights, too.

I can't tell you how often coaches tell me that the players of today, cut from the cloth of year-round travel and AAU games, lack on the fundamentals. They lament the lack of time they have to work with their players on the basics.

Grunloh could afford to make his holiday practice plans heavy on the fundamentals. He had the time.

"We did a lot of going back to the basics," Grunloh said. "It was shooting drills and ball-handling and all the fundamentals and skills work. We're really young, so that kind of work especially helped us."

To make up for all the games they missed over the holidays, the Knights have entered a Martin Luther King tournament in downstate Washington that will span a long weekend in mid-January.

"It's a great alternative, I think," Grunloh said. "We'll get in four games and we'll leave Friday and be back Monday night. We'll get that team bonding time, we'll get in competition against teams we don't usually see, which is one of the biggest things coaches like about holiday tournaments, but we don't need to take our kids away from their families over the holidays to do it.

"I know a lot of coaches think I'm the crazy one now, but I'm thinking that if they give it some thought, maybe more of them will be saying that this is the way they should do it, too."

What joy that would bring to my world. Yours too, I bet.


• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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