The high school state basketball tournaments continue this week, and March Madness and all the bracket fun it brings with it is just around the corner. But last week there was some championship basketball played that, in my opinion, is hard to beat.
I'm talking about the Gwinnett County middle school championships. This is Gwinnett -- so the fact that there were good teams and players is a given. But to me, what stands out about the tournament is how neat it is to watch kids that age -- seventh- and eighth-graders -- compete and enjoy themselves. And with basketball being the only sport for middle school students, this is their one chance to play for their school and for their classmates to root them on.
As the years progress, it seems we have to keep moving down in classification to find purity in sports. College has long since lost that role, and these days high school hoops with nationally televised games and AAU maneuvering can leave something to be desired. But the local middle school tournament seems like fun, kids competing with unbridled enthusiasm, some enjoying what may very well be the athletic times of their lives.
This tournament has produced Lou Williams and Maya Moore -- who have gone on to great heights at the pro level in the men's and women's games -- but for many of these players it might be one of their last chances at glory. This year's tournament had its share of stars, names you'll no doubt read about in the coming years at the high school level. But at that age, just being part of a team is a neat and developing experience, with competing for or winning a title icing on the cake.
On that subject, I speak from experience. Gwinnett's middle school tourney always brings back good personal memories, because when I was in school, my junior high team went undefeated before losing in the state tourney. I still remember the excitement that came with our trip to state, and how the parents of each player painted their son's number on their cars with shoe polish and proudly wore buttons proclaiming their support; in my case my mom's read: "My son is #54."
These days that number is growing closer and closer to my age. But while eighth grade might have been the peak of my basketball abilities (being 6-foot-1 might have had something to do with that) that season and those experiences still bring back a lot of good memories. I'm sure it will be the same for the players who competed in this year's Gwinnett tournament.
So, congratulations to the Hull boys and Trickum girls for winning the overall middle school titles in Gwinnett. And congrats to all the kids on all the squads who got to compete; enjoy being on a team and experience some basketball madness just before March.
Email Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays.