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Morse and crew give old Classic a new look

One year ago, Cascade Christian boys basketball coach Brian Morse made the realization that his school's annual Christmas tournament had essentially reached its peak.

It was during the Cascade Christian Christmas Classic in 2006 that Morse pulled assistant coach Terry Rasmussen aside and discussed the notion that the tournament could become something truly special with the right help.

"The key is the last four years, I've been doing it 95 percent by myself with setting everything up and all that," says Morse, who began hosting a holiday tournament in 1992, "and the problem was I knew the tournament probably wasn't going to get any better."

That idea simmered for a couple months with Rasmussen before the local RE/MAX real estate agent returned to Morse with a similar vision of a bigger and better tournament.

Several months of hard work later, the A.G. Edwards Christmas Classic was born and will be unveiled Thursday at three local venues: The Pavilion and St. Mary's High in Medford and Scenic Middle School in Central Point.

The three-day event features 32 boys and girls teams from 14 different schools, ranging from as far away as Montana, to make it the largest basketball tournament in the state. Forty-eight games make up the upper and lower divisions, with an "unlimited division" for Class 4A, 3A and 2A teams and a "varsity division" for 2A and 1A teams and the junior varsity squads from Cascade Christian, St. Mary's and Rogue River.

"We're really doing it up good and trying to make it the top 3A-4A tournament in the state," says Morse, who expects increasing commitments from the state's premiere small-school teams once word gets out. "Everyone's really stepping up to make this a big event, not just a tournament."

The tournament has a title sponsor in the brokerage firm A.G. Edwards, and Morse says teams will receive a host of amenities to rival the ones enjoyed in Pendleton during state-tournament season.

From free hotel rooms for teams traveling more than two hours away — compliments of Marriott, Motel 6 and Comfort Inn — to complimentary movie passes at Tinseltown Theatres and free bowling games at Lava Lanes for coaches and players, a seven-person committee headed by Rasmussen has pulled out all the stops in a short time. Food for teams and media members covering the event has also been donated from various sources, including Food 4 Less and Harry & David.

"We're really trying to make this a different event," says Rasmussen. "We've just had a lot of people step forward and say we want to be a part of this. I think (the teams) are really going to be blown away, and hopefully it will only get better after this."

Morse says Rasmussen is "the MVP" of the tournament's recent evolution.

"He's a real go-getter," says Morse. "He's taken all the stress off me and really is making things happen."

For his part, Rasmussen defers to the work done by the Classic's committee — another first for the tournament — and the generosity of this community.

"This isn't just my brainchild," says Rasmussen. "There are several people working on this thing, which is why it's turned into quite an event."

Another important individual has been Mark Sosey, who as an agent at A.G. Edwards helped bring the company into the fold as primary sponsor.

"Smaller schools usually don't have a first-class tournament to go to like this," says Sosey, who has a freshman son in the Cascade Christian program. "We thought this was a great way to improve the tournament and give the kids a great experience. We just thought we'd get involved and help and see what would happen. The bigger schools have the Les Schwab Invitational and tournaments like that, but there's nothing really for the little guys."

Sosey had to do his fair share of persuading when it came to getting his St. Louis-based parent company to pony up a donation and put its name on the event, but officials at A.G. Edwards were very trusting and accommodating in the end.

About the only real hiccup thus far in the staging of such an event has been the timing. School is typically out of session at this time of year but, with Christmas coming next Tuesday, the winter break isn't set to begin until Dec. 24 and runs through Jan. 6.

"It was probably the middle to the end of November when we were signing all the paperwork to use Scenic and they said we can't get (into the gyms) until 3:45 p.m. because school was still in session," says Morse. "We just kind of looked at ourselves and said, 'Oh, golly .. now what?"

Morse says the in-session issue hasn't been much of a problem for the teams slated to compete — although administrators probably aren't too happy — the problem has been securing enough volunteers to make such a big venture run smoothly at all four sites.

"We have about 80 percent of it done," he says. "We'll probably make the last push (tonight) by going through the stands, begging for more help."

Students at Cascade Christian High will also get a rare treat thanks to the scheduling snafu, with some P.E. classes Thursday and Friday at The Pavilion consisting of sitting in the stands to watch basketball games. Morse says some teachers may even entertain the option of having their class attend the games as a group.

All that will provide an added flair for Thursday's tournament openers.

"No one wants to play at 1 o'clock on a Thursday with just mom and dad there," Morse says of making the best of a difficult situation. "Now they'll have a built-in audience."

Morse says the operating budget for the tournament is about $16,500, and proceeds for the venture will go to Cascade Christian's Booster Club and the Challenger boys and girls basketball programs.

The tournament began in 1992 as the Cascade Christian Christmas Classic, then became the Crusader-Challenger Christmas Classic in 1997. The event took a four-year hiatus beginning in 2000 before Morse revived it at Cascade Christian in 2004.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com