The St.John Lions are celebrating 50 years of the Lions' Club Mid-Winter Classic Basketball Tournament.

For 50 years the St. John Lions Classic Basketball Tournament has brought eight teams to town for some exciting basketball action. On this 50th anniversary, the tournament will again feature eight teams battling it out plus some displays of previous tournament memorabilia and some great food, said Tournament Director and President of the St. John Lions Club Rick Hunley.

This years tournament will feature St. John-Hudson, Larned, Ness City, Macksville, Central Plains, Nickerson, Kansas City Christian (2A) and Wichita Defenders (home school team). This is the first year Kansas City Christian and Wichita Defenders have participated in the tournament.

The tournament started back in 1967 just after the current grade school and gym were built. George Highfill, district superintendent and Lions Club Member, came up with the idea for a tournament as a way to promote the school and city.

Originally, there were four schools: St. John, Pratt, Greensburg and Larned in a round robin competition. Greensburg dropped out of the tournament and in 1968 it expanded to eight teams.

Lions Club member Gerald Goodman was tournament director for 27 years and he was responsible for getting the tournament program put together. Hunley said he learned a lot from watching Goodman and helped him get things done. Hunley ran the concessions stand and was a team sponsor so he had learned a lot when he became tournament director in 2006.

"I knew every aspect of the tournament," Hunley said.

Every year, an adult community member volunteers to be a team sponsor along with a high school student that help each team with whatever they need. There is also a sponsor for the referees.

Hunley has gathered memorabilia that will be on display including several of the previous tournament books. The way the tournament books have progressed over the year is interesting especially the photos of the changes in uniforms. He found a 1974 book that was particularly interesting.

Jerry Maddox has been in charge of putting the program together for the last 15 years. Since this is the 50th anniversary, he had the vision to create a color version this year. The Lions sell ads to help pay for the program.

Taylor Printing in Pratt prints the book and they do a nice job, Hunley said.

Because of the income from the ads, including Golden Belt Telephone that donates $500 to sponsor the book, the program is handed out free of charge.

Hunley will present the tournament history, recognize the previous members that helped start and maintain the tournament for years.

Over the years, the Lions Club has lost members and now the community has taken over running the tournament. It takes about 100 volunteers to make the tournament work. Many of the volunteers have been doing their particular job for many years and that helps make the tournament run smoothly.

"It takes a lot of people to put this thing on," Hunley said. "It works well because the community works well."

People get hungry at the tournament and the food at the Lions Classic is pretty good. There is barbecue beef, chili Frito pie, baked potato wiht chili and cheese, hot dogs and some of the best pie around furnished by area cooks. Prices are pretty reasonable with a main food item plus a piece of pie for just $5.

Tournament games are played Jan. 16, 18, 19, and 20 at the high school gym and each team gets to play three games in the tournament with everyone playing on the last day.

The goal of the tournament hasn't changed over the past 50 years. What started as a chance for students to compete against each other in friendly atmosphere and that continues today.

"We want to give each student athlete a positive experience. We want students to say 'Oh, yeah. I played in the Lions Club tournament,'" Hunley said.

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