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Elgin High School on Wednesday announced the cancellation of its annual boys basketball holiday tournament, ending a 39-year tradition.
Athletic director Paul Pennington cited financial losses and tepid response to 2014 contracts as the reasons for the event's demise.
"It was not financially responsible to continue," Pennington said. "Hosting an event that large put a dent in our budget. To continue doing that next year would not be financially responsible."
Pennington said Elgin lost nearly $3,000 on the four-day tournament in 2013.
"Also, the commitment from teams was not there," he added. "Going into next year I wanted the field set early. The response was not as great as it was in the past for whatever reason. When you put contracts out for next year and teams are talking about going elsewhere and shopping around, it puts stress on the athletic department to focus all your effort on just one tournament. I have 25 other programs I need to worry about and make sure those are positive experiences for those kids. I can't have a black eye on the athletic department or Elgin High or (Elgin Area School District) U-46 by doing something on their dime. It has to be fully funded."
The quality of the field at the Elgin Holiday Tournament suffered in recent years as tournaments at Proviso West and York expanded to 32 teams. Elgin also faced competition from tournaments at Jacobs, Wheeling, DeKalb and Bolingbrook, not to mention downstate Pontiac and Bloomington, among many others.
Longtime Elgin Tournament participants Highland Park, Wheaton North, Rolling Meadows and Glenbrook South left in 2011 for a new tournament at Hinsdale South, which has since been enveloped by York's expansion.
Others like Fremd, St. Patrick, Neuqua Valley, and Glenbard East eventually opted to play elsewhere. Larkin, the 2012 Elgin Tournament champion, switched to Jacobs in 2013.
"Each school had reasons for leaving, but it hurt the depth of the tournament," said 11th-year Dundee-Crown coach Lance Huber, whose school has competed at Elgin throughout his 20 years with the program. "It's disappointing. It used to be a really good tournament. I always felt when you went there, you got a really good test on how you measured up at Christmastime with teams around the area and from out of the area. It really exposed your weaknesses and what you had to work on.
"Gradually, they lost a team here, two there and it went down. For whatever reason Elgin wasn't able to replace them with the same type of quality teams."
The true heyday of the tournament came in the mid-to-late 1980s when former Elgin coach Jim Harrington used his connections to draw top competition to Chesbrough Field House, including the Sonny Cox-coached Chicago King teams that included All-Americans such as Marcus Liberty and Jamie Brandon, among others, who helped boost local attendance tremendously.
The 2013 Elgin Tournament field included four Chicago Public League teams, whose fans did not attend in large numbers, thereby hurting the gate.
The field also included Chicago Team Englewood (enrollment 396), Chicago F.W. Parker (325) and the Islamic Foundation of Villa Park (125). Due to an internal issue, St. Francis de Sales was forced to forfeit a game. A CPS team forfeited another game due to traffic issues.
Batavia, an Elgin Tournament participant for decades, opted out of the 2014 tournament three weeks ago in favor of York. Batavia coach Jim Nazos said that decision was made largely due to his close personal friendship with York coach Vince Doran. Nazos also pulled out of the Elgin Tournament as Wheaton North's coach in 2011 to attend the tournament at Hinsdale South, then coached by Doran.
"It was a hard thing to do because of the history there," Nazos said of leaving Elgin. "I can remember seeing games like St. Pat's against Downers North or the great Mid-Suburban teams. They would pull out the bleachers under the baskets and it would be packed. I remember (as Wheaton North coach) playing Batavia in the championship game and the place was 80 percent full. And that wasn't that long ago.
"You rooted for it to come back to get where it was, but it didn't seem like it was going to happen. I don't think it's anybody's lack of doing or not doing anything. I think it's just kind of how it happened."
Defections continued into this week. Huntley, which won the consolation championship in December, informed Elgin on Monday it intended to play at Jacobs next season. Huntley won the Jacobs Tournament in 2011.
"It was my first year there so I don't know what it was like at Elgin before," Huntley coach Marty Manning said Wednesday. "But others told me it was not the same. We inquired if there happened to be any openings at Jacobs and there was one left, so we took the opportunity to return there."
Recent Elgin graduates expressed via social media their disappointment regarding the decision. Arie Williams, the 2012-13 Daily Herald All-Area honorary captain, chimed in via Twitter from Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla., saying he was "Really heart broken."
"I was hoping we would build back up but can't say I didn't see it coming," 2012 Elgin graduate Dennis Moore said on Facebook. "Great memories."
Moore, now a running back for Division III national champion Wisconsin-Whitewater, hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer in a 2010 Elgin Tournament semifinal against Rockford Auburn to send Elgin to the championship game for the first time since 1999. It marked the first of 3 straight title-game appearances for the Maroons, who won the tournament for the last time in 2011 by upsetting nationally ranked La Lumiere (Ind.) in one of the most memorable games in the tournament's history.
Said North Dakota State sophomore Kory Brown, a two-time All-Area honorary captain in 2010 and 2011: "(The) tournament has been around for a long time. It was nice to have gone through it and play some of the good teams that came through."
Elgin coach Mike Sitter did not comment for this story and deferred questions to Pennington.
John Radtke contributed to this report