It’s been a number of years since the Union County Holiday basketball tournaments for boys and girls have been held.
The idea started a little more than 30 years ago when boys teams from Marysville, Fairbanks, North Union, Jonathan Alder and sometimes Triad played in a two-day tournament the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
It was a break during the middle of the season from conference races and allowed Union County area fans to watch the local squads in one location.
The boys’ tournament began in Marysville’s “Pit,” which is now the gym in the early college high school.
It carried over for a number of years to the present high school that opened in the early 1990s.
A girls’ tournament, featuring Marysville, Fairbanks, North Union and Jonathan Alder began in the mid 1990s and was played in Richwood.
That tournament usually stretched over a two-day period either before or after the boys’ competition.
Although the Holiday Tournaments enabled Union County fans four consecutive days to get their hoops “fix,” they were not the first such events in local history that attracted roundball enthusiasts from around the county.
The original Union County basketball tournament began in 1922 and continued through the early 1960s.
It wasn’t an event that attracted the handful of local schools that everyone knows today.
At one time, there were 14 school districts in Union County and they each fielded boys and at times, girls squads.
Tim Davidson, a 1977 graduate of Marysville High School, has long been known as a historian of all things Marysville and Union County high school sports.
He has supplied much of the information that has gone into selecting members of the Marysville High School Athletic Hall of Fame and its supporting kiosk in the lobby of Alumni Hall.
Davidson’s latest project has taken on a bigger scope. He is compiling a history of the Union County boys basketball tournament.
He’s doing so for a book that is called “When County Schools Ruled.”
Davidson has been diligently searching for box scores of each county tournament game dating back 98 years.
He has used a number of resources and has found much of the information from the Marysville Journal-Tribune.
“I’ve gotten a lot of the box scores and team rosters from schools over the years,” said Davidson. “I have everything the Journal-Tribune ever printed on the county tournament, but at times, not every box score or roster was printed.”
Davidson said he’s always on the lookout for anyone in the area who may have recollections or memorabilia (programs) from the tournament.
He’s also collected a number of pictures that show the fronts of the various school buildings that once doted the Union County landscape.
Additional photos he’s found include those of teams, players and coaches from throughout Union County’s hoop history.
At the beginning, the county tournament determined which team would go on to compete in the district post-season each year.
“They didn’t have sectional tournaments back then,” said Davidson. “From 1922-1927, the winner of the county tournament automatically advanced to the district.
“From what I’ve discovered, the champion and runner-up county teams qualified for the district from 1928-1955.”
Marysville played in the tournament during its first two years.
The 1922 tourney featured teams such as MHS, Dover, Magnetic Springs, Byhalia, New California, Irwin, Milford Center, York Center, Richwood, Chuckery, Allen Center, Pharisburg, Raymond, Darby and Broadway.
Marysville, being a bigger school district, dropped out of the county tournament and joined Class B among Ohio High Schools.
The number of teams that participated in the county tournament began to shrink once districts began to consolidate.
For instance, Magnetic Springs and Pharisburg joined forces in 1931, Chuckery and Darby consolidated in 1937 and Byhalia and York Center became one district in 1951.
Broadway and Raymond consolidated in 1951 to become Northwestern.
That district, in turn, was absorbed into Marysville in the early 1960s.
Over the years, Milford Center, Union Local, Irwin and Chuckery-Darby were grouped together to form Fairbanks.
Magnetic Springs consolidated with Richwood in the early 1960s.
Byhalia-York was then added in the mid 1960s to form North Union.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association eventually added a sectional round of tournament games, prior to the district tournament.
“The county tournament basically ended in 1962 because there so few schools left to play in it,” said Davidson.
“Richwood won the final county tournament,” he said. “The other teams in the tournament that year were Fairbanks, Northwestern (before it joined Marysville) and Byhalia-York.”
The county tournament was played at the old Ohio National Guard Armory on Fourth Street during its formative years
It was later switched to the then-Marysville High School on Sixth Street.
“The games were two, 20-minute halves,” said Davidson. “The clock didn’t stop unless there was a timeout or an injury.
“There weren’t any scoreboards (in the early years), so the time was kept by one of the officials and the score of the game was shouted out to the crowd.”
A number of familiar names were involved in the tournament in official capacities.
Long-time Marysville High School basketball coach Warren Widner and football coach Bob Lewis served as referees and G.L. Kingsmore, who coached both sports at MHS, was the tournament director.
“Duncan McClellan was the scorekeeper for many years,” said Davidson. “If there are any of his relatives still around and who have any of the scorebooks, I’d love to hear from them.”
The sports historian would eventually like to publish the book, but isn’t sure if that will be possible.
Davidson said the cost factor would probably prevent him from turning the project into a book for Union County fans to purchase.
“It costs $2,500 just to publish 50 copies of a book,” he said. “That’s too expensive.”
For now, the project is just a “labor of love” for the Union County high school sports fan.
This is a photo of the cover of Tim Davidson’s history of the Union County basketball tournament.
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