By BRAD CROWE
For locals, the Richton Rotary Basketball Tournament is almost as big of a holiday season tradition as putting up a Christmas tree — and for many, the tournament comes first. Through Saturday, eight local hoops teams will square off in Mississippi’s longest-running active sports tournament, which has been held the first week of December each and every year since 1956.
In fact, the tradition is as old as the Richton National Guard armory itself. When the facility was being constructed, former Richton basketball coach L.D. Ready worked out an agreement for a unique floor plan. Rather than laying cement, they laid down hardwood for Ready and the Rebels to use in competition as their very first gymnasium. That same year, the Richton Rotary Tournament came to life.
“The Rotary Club approached me about the idea of starting an annual tournament as a fundraiser,” recalled Ready. “The Rotary Club was a really big deal around here those days, and we were really fortunate to have the armory to assist us with making it all possible.”
The first few years of the tournament featured teams from schools in Perry County. Runnelstown, Beaumont, New Augusta and Janice were all charter placeholders on the original 10-team tournament bracket. As the action began heating up, Ready said other schools throughout the area took notice and reached out for the opportunity to join in on the fun.
“For a good while, hosting tournaments really wasn’t that popular around here,” Ready said. “I’d always call all the local papers to share information and results from ours, and as it gained a little more notoriety, schools from other counties such as Greene, Wayne and Jones became interested and started getting involved.
“It just kept growing from there, and I’m real fortunate to have made a lot of great memories with a lot of great players, teams and fans from this tournament.”
Since 1975, the tournament has been held in a new gymnasium that bears Ready’s name. The Rebels are led into competition by head coach Hugh Thoms, who once played for Ready as a student athlete and served under him as an assistant in 1990. Thoms says the fingerprints of Ready and his wife, the late Rose Ready, can still be seen annually at the tournament in more ways than one.”
“My wife was an art major, and she would always make signs for us to put up all over the gym during the tournament,” Ready recalled fondly. “Coach Thoms called me this morning and said one sign she made that reads ‘Richton Rotary Club’ still gets put up every single year, and it stretches all the way across the gym.”
“He told me that sign is probably older than he is,” Ready added with a laugh.
Coach Thoms takes pride in preparing his team for the annual event, having many fond memories of his own from all the great teams that have competed in his hometown each December, and he hopes to see the tradition continue to thrive for many years to come.
“I can remember how big of an event it was when I was a kid. My dad used to bring me,” Thoms recalled. “In a sense, Richton is known for the Richton Rotary Tournament because it’s been going for so many years.”
This year the tournament will feature boys’ and girls’ teams from Richton, Perry Central, Greene County and West Jones. The first tip-off each day is scheduled for 4:30 p.m Thursday featuring a girls’ game between Perry Central and Greene County. Each night will end with an 8:15 p.m. boys’ contest, Thursday’s being between the host Richton and West Jones.
“We’re really proud of this tournament and all the tradition that comes with it,” Thoms said. “It gives us an opportunity to see where we stack up against some really good basketball teams, and it usually gives the fans a pretty good show, so we’re hoping that’ll be the case once again this week.”