Time Out: August 5, 2009
The Avoca Summer Classic is my favorite off-season basketball venue. This three-on-three tournament gem is the highlight of a packed spring and summer basketball schedule for my Andes boys’ basketball team. In its eighth year this summer, the Avoca Classic is a full day of competitive basketball and small town community fun.
A small community of just over 1,000 people, Avoca is located off the first exit of Route 390 North running northwest from Bath. The community closes off a section of their Main Street and assembles eight half-court basketball playing areas directly in front of a small town square. That’s the venue for a day packed with basketball competition.
Organizing and running the tournament has to be a nightmare, but you would never know it as a participant. Tournament Director Bill Collmer and his team of volunteers run the event like clockwork. Saturday the industrious volunteers orchestrated 58 teams through a maze of brackets in five age groups in the double-elimination event. Although I’m sure there were many backstage snafus, to the casual observer it seemed as if the day went off without a hitch.
The Classic is a showcase of community spirit. The atmosphere is small-town friendly punctuated with smiles. Tournament officials make participants feel like old friends. A local radio station DJ pumps great tunes through a first-rate sound system located in the park’s gazebo, the nerve center of the Classic. The local teachers’ association manned a dunking booth raising money for a family that suffered a devastating fire. A reasonably-priced food stand and some carnival-like booths selling carnival-like goods added to the festive spirit.
The Avoca Classic is held each summer in memory of Frankie Rundell. Rundell, a local basketball legend on the 1988 Avoca team that advanced all the way to the Glens Falls Final Four, was lost in a car accident in December of 2001.
They say you can learn a great deal about a person from the reaction of others to their name. If that’s the case, Frankie was someone special, a force of positive energy and leadership during his time. In staging this event Avoca honors Frankie’s memory each year through the money this tournament raises for scholarships to local student athletes and money to support athletes attending camps and participating on local youth sports teams. Their local basketball classic is a terrific tribute to Frankie Rundell.
Andes placed two teams, one at the 15-16-age level and another in the 17-18 age group, in Saturday’s Classic. When two last-day cancellations and a squishy ankle rolled at the Houghton Team camp threatened to eliminate one team, the guys took to the local basketball court in Addison, where we stayed, looking for some reinforcements. It was there we added PJ Povoski, a gritty, hard driving 15-year-old guard to our younger team.
PJ and two Andes guys made it through the winners’ bracket to the championship game. With no substitutes and 80-plus degree heat beating down on their backs, the young Mountaineers played the final minutes of the title game on rubbery legs. When regulation time ran out, the Mountaineers were in front by a single point, but a quirk in the rules requires that every game be decided by two or more points. The game was extended and the young Mountaineers eventually fell to a team from Naples.
PJ returned and swam with the guys at the lake, had dinner with us, and returned to the downtown playground before calling it a day. When he left, we had a new, permanent friend, and the newest Mountaineer asked if he could play with our guys if we came back again next summer. Meeting PJ was certainly a highlight of our trip.
A footnote, the Andes team in the 17- and 18-age level division did quite well, splitting four games with no contest, win or loss, decided by more than four points.
Yet, the real story is Avoca, this small rural town rallying together each year to pay tribute to one of their lost favorite sons and in his name providing a forum for basketball lovers of every age and raising money to be used for worthy local causes.