AHSAA State Basketball Finals Celebrate 25 Years


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A groundbreaking idea  25 years ago changed the face of Alabama High School Athletic  Association basketball. Why not bring the girls’ and boys’ state  semifinals and finals to one site for a week of the best basketball in  the state? It had never been done in Alabama and the format proposed for  that 1994 championship tournament was likely the first ever in the  nation.


The AHSAA would crown its champions at one site,  all classifications, with girls’ and boys’ games alternating until all  the nets had been cut down.


“I think everyone will agree it’s been a great 25  years for basketball in our state,” said Steve Savarese, the current  AHSAA Executive Director. “Having all the teams playing at one site  makes for a special environment to showcase our student-athletes, their  coaches and all the fans.


“The tournament has been a great success for the  AHSAA and for the city of Birmingham. We are grateful for all of our  partners who make it such a memorable event.”


The genesis of the tournament finals coming to  the state’s largest city came from the Birmingham Tip Off Club’s  then-president John D. Clements and then-AHSAA Executive Director Dan  Washburn in 1993. Clements’ idea was to bring the six prep champs to the  Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center for a “Tournament of Champions”  to create an extra buzz for the sport. Washburn rejected that idea, but  offered a different plan – why not crown all the champions in an event  in the Magic City to generate a next level of excitement? 


Clements and his fellow Tip Off Club members  leapt into action, creating the Alabama Basketball Foundation to serve  as the organization to administer the tournament, securing sponsors,  housing at the Sheraton Civic Center hotel for the teams and officials,  and creating a volunteer program that rallied the community around the  teams and the event. 


Former Tip Off Club president Jim Conrad prepared  a tournament manual that has served as a blueprint for conducting the  event. A logo and marketing theme was put into place – “State Finals, 48  Teams, 1 Dream” – that was used for many years.


Clements said the consolidation and move of the  tournaments to Birmingham had its risks for the AHSAA, including the end  of the long tradition of having eight boys’ teams advance to the  finals. The makeup of the first Alabama Basketball Foundation board  helped smooth the transition. The board was made up of Tip Off Club  members Clements, Edgar Welden, Ron Edwards, Bill Meagher, Dick Coffee  III and Mike Washburn. Members from the AHSAA were Washburn, Jimmy Cal,  Max Ray from the Central Board of Control, Vestavia Hills High School  coach Fran Brasch and Bryant-Jorden Scholarship Foundation board member  Larry Striplin.


The agreement that combined the two tournaments  into “Final Four” extravaganzas also started the four regional  tournaments, dubbed collectively as the “Road to Birmingham.”  The first  year the regionals were played at Alabama State University in  Montgomery, Jacksonville State University, Wallace State Community  College in Hanceville and Faulkner Community College in Bay Minette.  Along the way, the the south site moved to Troy University, the  University of South Alabama and is currently held at Dothan Civic  Center. Since that first season, approximately 2 million spectators have  watched the state championship qualifier tournaments.


Birmingham businesses joined the effort to  support the tournament in Birmingham from the get-go, Clements said.  “Coca-Cola United of Birmingham has been a loyal sponsor and supporter  of the tournament since its inception,” he said, “not only financially  but with in-kind products for the participants during the tournament,  marketing and personnel to assist with the production of the tournament.


“HealthSouth (now Encompass Health) also  committed as an initial sponsor. HealthSouth provided trainers and  medical personnel in attendance during the games and participant medals  given to each player. The Birmingham News provided in-kind promotional  and advertising services. Alabama Power also participated by providing  promotional assistance – and sponsored a popular slam-dunk contest and  3-point shooting contest. Later, Alabama Power became a full  participating financial sponsor. The City of Birmingham and Jefferson  County also agreed to help.”


The Tip Off Club also devised the concept of  providing hosts for each team to assist them from the moment the results  of the regionals were known until their state in Birmingham was  complete. Sally Bryant, and later Janis Clements, headed up the effort  to recruit volunteers and match them with the teams. Many of the hosts  went the extra mile, providing treats for the players and some even  invited players and coaches to their homes and/or offices for a sort of  “career day.” At least one host was later invited to speak at “his”  team’s postseason banquet and others have received championship rings  from their team.


Welden, a Birmingham businessman and longtime  supporter of high-school athletics, told the Over The Mountain Journal  in a 2016 interview: “I really think putting the boys and the girls in  the same venue was one of the best things that ever happened for girls’  basketball in the state. We put them on equal footing with the boys and  gave them a showcase they hadn’t had previously. Other states have  followed our format.” That unique concept has been copied by other  several other states since then.


That first year at the BJCC, the girls’ Class 2A  matchup between Lauderdale County and top-ranked Fyffe drew the largest  crowd with a record-breaking 6,500 in attendance.


This year’s State Finals begin on Monday with  Class 1A and 2A girls’ and boys’ semifinals.  The Class 1A girls’  semifinal contest between Linden (20-3) and Phillips (28-3) kicks off  the eight-game slate at 9 a.m.  Classes 3A and 4A play Tuesday, Classes  6A and 5A tip on Wednesday and Class 7A semis will be Thursday.   Championship games begin Thursday afternoon and continue through  Saturday afternoon. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com.


The Alabama High School Athletic Association,  founded in 1921, is a private agency organized by its member schools to  control and promote their athletic programs. The purpose of the AHSAA  is to regulate, coordinate and promote the interscholastic athletic  programs among its member schools, which include public, private and  parochial institutions. 

Van Riggs

Van Riggs

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