Burled arch and basketball: Nome has plenty of sports history
The 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ends in Nome, but it's not the only sporting event associated with springtime in the rural city. A basketball tournament also happens there each year.
Jerry Oliver and Lonnie O’Connor founded the Iditarod Basketball Classic in 1974. After O’Connor died in 1992, the contest was renamed the Lonnie O'Connor Iditarod Classic Basketball Tournament.
The event began as a way to bring people in Nome together while they waited for the Iditarod teams to arrive. People could sometimes wait for days for the next musher to come in.
"The dog teams were so far apart back then," Oliver said.
While Oliver knew he could handle the basketball side of things, O'Connor was the public relations person who did most of the legwork.
There aren't many tournament records, however. "It was put together real quick," Oliver said.
The pair didn’t expect the tournament to grow like it has. It started with just eight teams, but ballooned to 71 in 1992, the year O’Connor died. In recent years, about 35–40 teams compete.
O'Connor's daughter and tournament committee member Kimberly Gooden says the decline in teams may be due to higher travel costs to get to Nome. Plus, the Alaska School Activities Association state high school basketball tournaments are happening and many families head to Anchorage to support their teams.
Oliver doesn’t serve on the committee anymore. He stepped down 14 years ago to let some of the younger people take over. He still enjoys going to the tournaments each year, however.
Former NBA players, all-star college athletes and teams from out of state have all made the trip to Nome. Some of the biggest draws, though, are athletes from the villages.
"We have a lot of talented players that I think a lot of people don't see, being that the players are from the rural areas,” Gooden said.
The tournament receives help in the concession stands from Alaska Missions. Oliver says the group started helping a little over 10 years ago, which takes a lot of pressure off the committee members.
All of the money raised supports the program and goes back into the community.
Another unique aspect of the tournament is that, instead of trophies, it gives out clocks as awards. Gooden says trophies just sit on the shelf and gather dust, whereas clocks get seen everyday.
Teams interested in participating in the 2020 tournament are asked to sign up on the Lonnie O'Connor Iditarod Classic Basketball Tournament Facebook Page.
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