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Organizing tourney is labor of love for Allen
On the eve of Christmas Eve, Tom Allen wasn't making last-minute holiday preparations. He wasn't even a bundle of nervous energy with the 60th Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament bearing down just days away.
He was cooking dinner.
"We'll see if it's edible," said Allen, the organizer of Southeast Missouri's longest-running basketball showcase.
Sixteen teams from the region will begin four days of play at the Show Me Center on Monday. The logistics -- teams, officials, facility, scheduling -- that could drive a worrywart to the brink of a breakdown on Christmas hardly bother Allen.
"I get to this point, and once the program is printed, the schools are seeded, the officials are scheduled, there's nothing to worry about," Allen said. "It helps that I've been doing this for 21 years. There will be something come up and you deal with personalities, but you get on with it."
One thing that came up Wednesday was a blast of winter weather. It's one thing Allen can't control and something he can't do much about if it does hit.
"We've never had a snow out," he said. "We don't really have the option. Our arrangement with the Show Me Center is for the first four days after Christmas except Sunday. Southeast has events on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, so we're locked out."
So maybe Allen spent the weekend with some worrying about the weather and the roads. But having been involved with the tournament for nearly half of its existence, running the event has become old hat.
Before Allen began assisting Southeast Missouri State track coach Joey Haines with the event in 1984, he had been involved with the tournament as a coach for five years and as a player two years while attending Patton.
"It just so happened 21 years ago, I just finished coaching and was the elementary principal at Oak Ridge," Allen said.
Haines had just become the tournament organizer, and his wife, Jane, was teaching at Oak Ridge. She mentioned to Allen that her husband needed assistance organizing the event. The rest is history.
Allen, 53, a Jackson resident and now the superintendent at Delta, took over when Haines relinquished the organizing chores.
As a superintendent for one of the tournament's member schools, Allen is part of the committee that makes decisions about the tournament. The event also has an executive committee with representatives from the schools.
While this week will be intense, the event requires much more of his time throughout the year.
"This week, I'll probably put in 50 hours over four days," he said, "and that's just a small part of the hours."
His duties include communicating with the schools; working with the Missouri State High School Activities Association, which must grant permission for 16-team tournaments; scheduling officials, which he does with a committee of three; coordinating the seeding meeting, which primarily is handled by assistant Bruce Qualls; ordering T-shirts for the players; and working on the program book.
"The program takes a lot of time," Allen said. "I'm not an ad salesman, but it comes to that at some point. The people have really been generous when they realize the money goes back the schools."
Once the tournament expenses are covered, the superintendents meet in the spring to divide the revenue among the participating schools. Teams earn one share of 52 shares for each of the games they play.
Allen said the support of the National Guard, the U.S. Army and the Southeast Missourian play a big role in the tournament's success. The Southeast Missourian will be sponsoring the event for the third year.
"The last two years, our gates have been the largest gates we've ever had," Allen said. "I'm not sure what else it could be attributed to. That's the only thing different in the last two years."
The tournament is built on consistency, right down to where the longtime fans sit.
"There are people every year sitting in the same seats all week long," Allen said. "The schools will sit in the same areas each year. If you're looking for someone you know, you can always find them sitting in the same place."
While Allen has seen hundreds of Christmas tournament games, he said he doesn't run out of room for new memories for the event.
"Every year, games go down to the wire or into overtime," he said. "It's kind of interesting to figure out what happens to all the players. Ricky Frazier played here and went to Missouri. Marcus Timmons was on the good Scott County Central teams and went to Southern Illinois. Several kids went on to play some place."
Allen said two other constants with the event are the field and the debate on officiating.
"It's always a regional tournament," Allen said. "We include the same teams every year unless something happens, and I don't foresee that. I would be surprised if a team wanted to get out unless something drastic happened. It'd have to be a vote of the superintendents. We really wanted to keep it a Southeast area tournament.
"There are several people who would like to get their teams in the tournament. It's such a great facility for high school basketball. There's nothing else like it around here. We can get 5,000 people for the final night."
Allen doesn't put much stock in the controversy about officiating, but he knows the subject often is part of basketball.
"You can never make people happy with officials," he said. "We do the best we can and hope the best team wins and it's decided by the players on the court.
Officials are like players and sometimes they have bad nights, too.
"We discuss two-man or three-man crews every year, and we vote on it every year. There's always a vote of the schools. We went to three-man crews for three or four years and then we went back to two-man crews. I don't believe it makes much difference."
While Allen might have been doubtful how he fared at cooking up dinner last week, don't be surprised if he has helped cook up another winning recipe.