By TERRY CREGAR
GREENVILLE — While this city’s role as host of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament subregional was getting all the attention, a group of around 500 young Catholic boys and girls — some possibly future NCAA stars — staged their own version of March Madness here.
Fifty-three teams representing parochial and parish middle schools from across South Carolina were in Greenville the weekend of March 9 and 10 for the annual Knights of Columbus Catholic Youth Basketball Tournament.
Five Knights of Columbus councils in the Greenville/Spartanburg area sponsored the event, which featured two days of fast-paced basketball.
Sandwiched between the action on the court was a Saturday night pizza party and dance that was preceded by Mass celebrated at Furman University’s Timmons Arena by Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary Church in Greenville. Around 1,500 athletes, their parents and Knights participated in the celebration.
Four teams — St. Mary’s in Aiken junior girls, Charleston Catholic junior boys, Christ Our King senior girls and Christ Our King senior boys — took home championship trophies following 72 games played in 10 church and public school gymnasiums across Greenville.
“It’s been an interdenominational event for us,” said Chris Caver, co-chairman of the tournament’s organizing committee. Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches in the city opened their gyms for the tournament, along with Wade Hampton and Greenville high schools, where the semifinals and finals were held.
The state tournament — the largest single Catholic youth event in the state — started in 1970 as an offshoot of the Parochial League, which started 11 years earlier.
The tournament was directed through the Diocese of Charleston until three years ago, when the Knights were asked to act as the lead organization
Chuck Rohling, district deputy for the Knights, said this was the first year the Greenville area councils were directly involved in the tournament.
“We’ve been fortunate this year, in that some of those involved in past tournaments are helping out this year,” Rohling said.
Co-hosting this year’s event from the Piedmont Deanery were St. Mary’s in Greenville, Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, Prince of Peace Church in Taylors, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Mauldin and St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville.
In all, more than 50 Knights volunteered for this year’s event, Rohling said, helping with concessions and wherever they where needed.
The games were officiated by referees from the middle school basketball leagues.
Each school, along with the parents of the team members, pay for travel and accommodations for the two-night tournament, a sacrifice worth making, according to Regina Hurshman, the mother of a member of the St. Mary’s junior boys team.
Caver said the weekend is much more than just a competition between schools.
“The purpose of (the tournament) is to have these kids get a sense of Catholic culture and know that there is a connection between fellow Catholics,” said Caver, who is a part-time teacher and athletic director at St. Mary’s in Greenville.
Charles Richitelli, state deputy for the Knights of Columbus, said that for many of those he met during the weekend, the Saturday night Mass made that connection.
“I talked to some of the parents after the Mass, and they told me that while they enjoyed the basketball, they really liked the Mass because it brought a sense of community, a sense of family,” said Richitelli.
The tournament currently rotates yearly between Greenville, Aiken and Charleston. Aiken hosted it last year and Charleston gets its turn again next year. Richitelli said the Knights are looking at adding at least one, and possibly two, cities to that current three-city rotation.
“They used to have (the tournament) in Columbia, so we’d like to get Columbia back,” he said. “There’s also some talk of trying to get the tournament to Myrtle Beach.”