BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A groundbreaking idea 25 years ago changed the face of Alabama High School Athletic Association basketball. Why not bring the girls’ and boys’ state semifinals and finals to one site for a week of the best basketball in the state? It had never been done in Alabama and the format proposed for that 1994 championship tournament was likely the first ever in the nation.
The AHSAA would crown its champions at one site, all classifications, with girls’ and boys’ games alternating until all the nets had been cut down.
“I think everyone will agree it’s been a great 25 years for basketball in our state,” said Steve Savarese, the current AHSAA Executive Director. “Having all the teams playing at one site makes for a special environment to showcase our student-athletes, their coaches and all the fans.
“The tournament has been a great success for the AHSAA and for the city of Birmingham. We are grateful for all of our partners who make it such a memorable event.”
The genesis of the tournament finals coming to the state’s largest city came from the Birmingham Tip Off Club’s then-president John D. Clements and then-AHSAA Executive Director Dan Washburn in 1993. Clements’ idea was to bring the six prep champs to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center for a “Tournament of Champions” to create an extra buzz for the sport. Washburn rejected that idea, but offered a different plan – why not crown all the champions in an event in the Magic City to generate a next level of excitement?
Clements and his fellow Tip Off Club members leapt into action, creating the Alabama Basketball Foundation to serve as the organization to administer the tournament, securing sponsors, housing at the Sheraton Civic Center hotel for the teams and officials, and creating a volunteer program that rallied the community around the teams and the event.
Former Tip Off Club president Jim Conrad prepared a tournament manual that has served as a blueprint for conducting the event. A logo and marketing theme was put into place – “State Finals, 48 Teams, 1 Dream” – that was used for many years.
Clements said the consolidation and move of the tournaments to Birmingham had its risks for the AHSAA, including the end of the long tradition of having eight boys’ teams advance to the finals. The makeup of the first Alabama Basketball Foundation board helped smooth the transition. The board was made up of Tip Off Club members Clements, Edgar Welden, Ron Edwards, Bill Meagher, Dick Coffee III and Mike Washburn. Members from the AHSAA were Washburn, Jimmy Cal, Max Ray from the Central Board of Control, Vestavia Hills High School coach Fran Brasch and Bryant-Jorden Scholarship Foundation board member Larry Striplin.
The agreement that combined the two tournaments into “Final Four” extravaganzas also started the four regional tournaments, dubbed collectively as the “Road to Birmingham.” The first year the regionals were played at Alabama State University in Montgomery, Jacksonville State University, Wallace State Community College in Hanceville and Faulkner Community College in Bay Minette. Along the way, the the south site moved to Troy University, the University of South Alabama and is currently held at Dothan Civic Center. Since that first season, approximately 2 million spectators have watched the state championship qualifier tournaments.
Birmingham businesses joined the effort to support the tournament in Birmingham from the get-go, Clements said. “Coca-Cola United of Birmingham has been a loyal sponsor and supporter of the tournament since its inception,” he said, “not only financially but with in-kind products for the participants during the tournament, marketing and personnel to assist with the production of the tournament.
“HealthSouth (now Encompass Health) also committed as an initial sponsor. HealthSouth provided trainers and medical personnel in attendance during the games and participant medals given to each player. The Birmingham News provided in-kind promotional and advertising services. Alabama Power also participated by providing promotional assistance – and sponsored a popular slam-dunk contest and 3-point shooting contest. Later, Alabama Power became a full participating financial sponsor. The City of Birmingham and Jefferson County also agreed to help.”
The Tip Off Club also devised the concept of providing hosts for each team to assist them from the moment the results of the regionals were known until their state in Birmingham was complete. Sally Bryant, and later Janis Clements, headed up the effort to recruit volunteers and match them with the teams. Many of the hosts went the extra mile, providing treats for the players and some even invited players and coaches to their homes and/or offices for a sort of “career day.” At least one host was later invited to speak at “his” team’s postseason banquet and others have received championship rings from their team.
Welden, a Birmingham businessman and longtime supporter of high-school athletics, told the Over The Mountain Journal in a 2016 interview: “I really think putting the boys and the girls in the same venue was one of the best things that ever happened for girls’ basketball in the state. We put them on equal footing with the boys and gave them a showcase they hadn’t had previously. Other states have followed our format.” That unique concept has been copied by other several other states since then.
That first year at the BJCC, the girls’ Class 2A matchup between Lauderdale County and top-ranked Fyffe drew the largest crowd with a record-breaking 6,500 in attendance.
This year’s State Finals begin on Monday with Class 1A and 2A girls’ and boys’ semifinals. The Class 1A girls’ semifinal contest between Linden (20-3) and Phillips (28-3) kicks off the eight-game slate at 9 a.m. Classes 3A and 4A play Tuesday, Classes 6A and 5A tip on Wednesday and Class 7A semis will be Thursday. Championship games begin Thursday afternoon and continue through Saturday afternoon. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com.
BIRMINGHAM -- Fifty-six high school basketball teams travel to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Legacy Arena this week as the 95th annual Alabama High School Athletic Association State Basketball Tournament tips off Monday, Feb. 27 and concludes Saturday, March 4.
Classes 1A and 2A will play girls’ and boys’ semifinals Monday, Classes 3A and 4A on Tuesday, Classes 5A and 6A on Wednesday and Class 7A on Thursday morning. Championship games will begin Thursday afternoon (1A girls and boys)) with six finals (2A, 3A and 4A) on Friday and six (5A, 6A and 7A) on Saturday.
The State Tournament is scheduled for Feb. 29-March 5 at the BJCC with Classes 1A and 2A playing semifinals on Monday, Classes 3A and 4A on Tuesday, Classes 6A and 5A on Wednesday and Class 7A on Thursday. Girls’ and Boys’ finals for Class 1A will be Thursday afternoon. Classes 2A, 3A and 4A will play championship games on Friday while Classes 5A, 6A and 7A concluding the tournament Saturday.
All semifinal games will be live-streamed by the NFHS Network and all finals will be televised by Raycom Media. The AHSAA Radio Network will broadcast all finals over its network and will provide the audio for the NFHS Network live-streams. More information can be found at www.ahsaa.com, www. http://statefinalsal.com/ and www.nfhsnetwork.com.
Three defending girls’ champions are in the field and four defending boys champions -- five if you include Mae Jemison of Huntsville, which opened its doors last August. The school replaces J.O. Johnson, which won the 5A state title in 2016 and 2015. Johnson head coach Jack Doss is the head coach for Mae Jemison. Doss (810-329), who recorded his 800th career win earlier this season, has guided the Jaguars (32-4) to national prominence in a hurry. His team had a big win over St. Anthony (N.J.), ranked 13th nationally in the Hall of Fame Classic at Springfield, Mass., on Martin Luther King Day last month.
Doss, inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, will be going for his 10th state title as a head coach with titles at Birmingham-Hayes in 1981 and 1982, Huntsville Butler in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, and 2011 and at J.O. Johnson the last two years. Senior John Petty, Alabama’s Mr. Basketball as a junior, is averaging 20.7 points a game this season as a senior.
Other boys’ defending champions in the field are Sacred Heart Catholic (1A), Lanett (2A), McGill-Toolen Catholic (7A) and Madison Academy, last year’s 3A winner now playing the Class 4A semifinals.
Spring Garden (1A), Deshler (4A) and Wenonah (5A) are girls’ defending champions returning this week. Deshler (33-0), coached by Jana Killen, comes in with a 67-game winning streak after claiming the Northwest Regional Class 4A title last Wednesday. Killen (697-177) is just three wins from her 700th career victory. Wenonah is going for its 5A title in a row.
Hillcrest-Evergreen (23-0) also comes into the tourney unbeaten in the Class 3A girls’ semifinals. Hazel Green (36-1) is in the 6A girls’ semifinals, and Locust Fork (33-1) is in the 3A field after knocking off Lauderdale County in the Northwest finals. The Tigers had won the last five Class 3A girls’ state championships.
On the boys’ side, Holly Pond rolls into the Class 3A semifinals at 33-1.
The complete schedule is listed below.
AHSAA 95th State Basketball Championships
At BJCC Legacy Arena
MONDAY, FEB. 27
Westminster Oak Mountain (21-5) vs. R.A. Hubbard (20-8), 9 a.m.
J.F. Shields (19-3) vs. Spring Garden (25-7), noon
Cornerstone (15-9) vs. South Lamar (24-6), 10:30 a.m.
Georgiana (27-2) vs. Sacred Heart (26-8), 1:30 p.m.
R.C. Hatch (22-5) vs. Tanner (27-2), 3 p.m.
Geneva County (29-2) vs. Fyff e (23-7), 6 p.m.
R.C. Hatch (23-2) vs. Sheffi eld (23-10) 4:30 p.m.
Barbour County (18-11) vs. Lane (22-7), 7:30 p.m.
TUESDAY, FEB. 28
Montgomery Academy (28-4) vs. Locust Fork (33-1), 9 a.m.
Hillcrest-Evergreen (23-0) vs. Pisgah (26-7), noon
Midfi eld (25-6) vs. Holly Pond (32-1), 10:30 a.m.
Hillcrest-Evergreen (22-5) vs. Plainview (30-4), 1:30 p.m.
Greensboro (22-4) vs. Deshler (33-0), 3 p.m.
B.T. Washington Magnet (15-7) vs. Madison Academy (33-1), 6 p.m.
Hale County (26-4) vs. Cordova (23-8), 4:30 p.m.
Monroe County (22-4) vs. Madison Academy (24-6), 7:30 p.m.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 1
Sylacauga (25-5) vs. Wenonah (28-3), 3 p.m.
Charles Henderson (29-5) vs. Arab (21-13), 6 p.m.
Sylacauga (26-7) vs. Mae Jemison (32-4), 4:30 p.m.
Faith Academy (21-8) vs. Talladega (26-8), 7:30 p.m.
Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (31-2) vs. Hazel Green (36-1), 9 a.m.
Carver-Montgomery (11-16) vs. Homewood (32-2), noon
Paul Bryant (22-11) vs. Aus n (29-5), 10:30 a.m.
Spanish Fort (25-8) vs. Parker (27-7), 1:30 p.m.
THURSDAY, MARCH 2
Central-Phenix City (26-4) vs. Hoover (27-7), 9 a.m.
McGill-Toolen Catholic (27-6) vs. Spain Park (21-11), noon
Auburn (22-9) vs. Vestavia Hills (19-14), 10:30 a.m.
McGill-Toolen (24-9) vs. Mountain Brook (29-5) 1:30 p.m.
CLASS 1A GIRLS: Thursday, 4 p.m.
CLASS 1A BOYS: Thursday, 5:45 p.m.
CLASS 2A GIRLS: Friday, 9 a.m.
CLASS 2A BOYS: Friday, 10:45 a.m.
CLASS 3A GIRLS: Friday, 12:30 p.m.
CLASS 3A BOYS: Friday, 2:15 p.m.
CLASS 4A GIRLS: Friday, 4 p.m.
CLASS 4A BOYS: Friday, 5:45 p.m.
CLASS 5A GIRLS: Saturday, 9 a.m.
CLASS 5A BOYS: Saturday, 10:45 a.m.
CLASS 6A GIRLS: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
CLASS 6A BOYS: Saturday, 2:15 p.m.
CLASS 7A GIRLS: Saturday, 4 p.m.
CLASS 7A BOYS: Saturday, 5:45 p.m.