By Toni Garrard Clay/AISD Communications Coordinator
If you noticed busier restaurants, more traffic and a lot of out-of-town school buses last week, there was a reason for that. Athens High School Head Boys Basketball Coach Cliff Thompson successfully spearheaded a three-day invitational basketball tournament that brought hundreds of people to town from Nov. 29-Dec. 1.
Twenty-eight varsity girls and boys teams competed in 63 games over the three-day period, which brought not only players, coaches and officials to town, but parents as well. Local McDonald’s owner and Athens Economic Development Corporation Board President Jeaneane Lilly reported the number of customers at their store increased an average of 21 percent over the three days of the tournament as compared to the previous year. That increase is particularly notable given the addition of two nearby competing restaurants that did not exist in 2017.
“We definitely saw impact with the number of visitors,” said Athens Chamber of Commerce President Marisa Gunstanson. “It not only brought in more people, but hopefully they go back and tell their friends they need to visit us as well.”
Local Super 8 Motel Owner Chet Patel reported tournament-goers rented 12 rooms, about half of which were for two nights. Patel made two of the rooms complimentary as a show of support for event organizers. Another local hotel reported that, contrary to the norm this time of year on weeknights, they were booked up two nights of the tournament.
“Coach Teague and I both felt like it went well,” said Thompson, referring to Head Girls Basketball Coach Jeff Teague. “We didn’t have any major issues, and the feedback from coaches and officials has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Thompson said their goal is to expand the invitational to become the premier tournament in East Texas. He notes a tournament of this size — which utilized three different gyms on the AHS campus — would not have been possible prior to the new competition gymnasium.