Destin Holiday Classic a huge success

Tina Harbuck

Good fun, good competition and good exposure. The Destin Holiday Classic high school girls basketball tournament held at Destin Middle School provided all three over the holiday break.

“The tournament did exactly what we wanted it to do,” said tournament director Scott McKinney.

“It provided great competition and entertainment and we exposed Destin and our beaches to people who had not seen it before. And hopefully they’ll come back for Spring break or Fall break,” McKinney said.

Mayor Mel Ponder was on hand opening night of the tournament and had the chance to welcome a few of the teams.

“What a great turnout,” Ponder told the Log in an emal.

“The city welcomed teams from multiple cities throughout the southeast and northwest Florida. I was thankful to have the opportunity to showcase our city and hospitality to what appeared to be several who had never been to Destin before. I was honored the tournament organizers selected the city and Destin Middle School to host their tournament in. Well done,” Ponder said.

The Destin Holiday Classic grew from an eight team tournament two years ago to a 16 team competition with 24 games played across three days. The first game tipped off each day at 8:30 a.m. and the last at 8:45 p.m.

“We were ambitious in going from eight to 16 teams, but we have a great staff working the tournament. They were dedicated to coming early and staying late,” McKinney said.

McKinney said he had 131 schools express interest in the event and they had to narrow it down to 16.

When the cuts were made the tourmament boiled down to two area teams, Fort Walton Beach and Niceville; four more from Florida; four from Kentucky; two each from Alabama and Georgia; and one from Mississippi and South Carolina.

“Every coach just raved over the tournament and the city,” McKinney said.

As a matter of fact, the tournament continued to draw interest even after it wrapped up on Wednesday.

“Within 48 hours of the tournament being over I had 19 emails from coaches that weren’t even in it, wanting to come next year,” McKinney said.

However, participating teams will have first right of refusal for the 2016 Classic, which is already on the calendar.

“We will start planning next week,” McKinney said, noting they have already secured the middle school for the same dates in December, 28-30, 2016.

Although not every team can come back next year, he anticipates at least half of them will be back.

The plan however is to get more local involvement as well.

“We want to get more local teams involved,” McKinney said.

This year, Fort Walton and Niceville were the only two local teams to participate. The first year, Paxton got in the mix but were already committed to another holiday tournament this year. McKinney said South Walton High has expressed interest in the 2016 event.

Not only did the tournament provide good competition, it brought a lot of people to the area.

Based on the number of tickets, McKinney said they sold more on the first day this year, than they did all three days combined two years ago.

“I just hope the businesses in the area felt some of the impact from the tournament,” McKinney said.