Right at home on the road

Basketball players exult in traveling to holiday tournaments

December 26, 2007|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Reporter

For Seton Keough's Katelyn Fischer and Mount St. Joseph's Henry Sims, playing basketball in a holiday tournament with teams from around the country is one of the best Christmas presents they could get.

Today, when their teams head out of town - No. 1 Seton Keough to Dallas and No. 2 Mount St. Joseph to Wilmington, N.C. - Fischer and Sims will be itching to get on the court and help their teams test themselves against new opponents.

It doesn't matter to either of them - or any of their teammates - that they will be away from home for much of Christmas week. In fact, Fischer and Sims said that if there were a gym open Christmas Day, they would be in it.

"It doesn't disrupt anything. We've pretty much gotten used to it," said Sims, a 6-foot-10 senior headed for Georgetown. "There's plenty of time to take care of the Christmas stuff."

Fischer, a junior guard, said: "I'm looking forward to the new competition so we can get out and play teams from around the nation, competition that's bigger than just in Baltimore. Baltimore teams are really good, but it's always a fun experience to play other teams."

While many families relax during the holidays, basketball families are used to hectic holiday tournament schedules.

"It's just my way of life. I had to be 11 years old the last time I had a full Christmas break," said Seton Keough coach Jackie Boswell, who played basketball at Archbishop Spalding from 1987 to 1991 and at Virginia Wesleyan from 1991 to 1995.

Several area basketball teams are on the road this week. They include: the No. 1 St. Frances boys (Richmond, Va.), the No. 3 Towson Catholic boys (Lewes, Del.), the No. 3 Western girls (Orlando, Fla.), the Mercy girls (Cincinnati) and the Roland Park girls (Nashville, Tenn.). Mount St. Joseph's No. 2 wrestling team is off to Pittsburgh.

Coaches like to play in these tournaments to expose their teams to different styles of play and more college coaches, as well as to promote team bonding.

"I want to get my kids exposure and have them experience something different," Western coach Tiffany Silver said. "The goal of at least 90 percent of my kids is to play ball at the next level, and ... I want to give college coaches in other parts of the nation a chance to see them play."

Mount St. Joseph's Pat Clatchey has taken the Gaels to out-of-town holiday tournaments 14 times in his 16 years as head coach. Roland Park girls coach Scott Buckley takes the Reds away every other year.

"Everyone plays over break. It's just a matter of whether you travel," Buckley said.

Said Clatchey: "It's a good experience to travel, to experience another part of the country. You play different teams with different styles of play, and that gets you ready for league play."

Being on the road for five or six days together also promotes team bonding, and several coaches said it improves on-court chemistry. Some players agree.

"It gives us time to be with each other for a week," Sims said, "and that helps us be able to jell and understand each other's game better."

A few families make a vacation out of the trip. Most are veterans of years of travel with their children on summer Amateur Athletic Union trips, so making a few concessions for the holidays is no problem.

"The kids, if they stay home, they have a lot of time on their hands," said Ted Olsen, whose family will travel to Wilmington to watch his son Chris Olsen play for the Gaels. "When they go away, it's structured and they tend to be more focused with the free time that they have instead of letting it be grains of sand going through their fingers."

The biggest adjustments might come on the part of coaches such as Clatchey and Boswell, who have small children. Clatchey's wife and two sons will accompany him to Wilmington, while Boswell will take the oldest of her three daughters with her.

Both said they get their family Christmas celebrations in early.

"Our family has our get-together Christmas Eve and Christmas Day," Clatchey said. "This is pretty much the accepted norm."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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