A time when girls basketball in Mansfield was believed destined to become diluted helped create one of the state’s most competitive holiday classics.
The Mansfield High girls basketball team had won four straight state titles, and the opening of Summit High School was surely going to dilute talent among separate campuses in 2002.
That’s when Raymond Meeks, the tournament director, began planning what is now the Spring Creek Barbeque Invitational girls basketball tournament.
The tournament is set for Dec. 28-30 with competition slated at four Mansfield ISD high school campuses.
This will be the 14th annual tournament with a field of 32 teams.
Meeks had researched various aspects of where and how to put together a basketball tournament and worked out the details with then-Mansfield ISD athletic director Debbie Weems.
“I’ve seen plenty of tournaments from a fan’s perspective,” Meeks said. “I found a lot to like about a tournament and a lot to not like about a lot of them.”
Timing was the first key element in making the tournament a success.
The first weekend of December was the initial thought, but Weems suggested Christmastime had its advantages.
The boys teams have the Whataburger Tournament, and Meeks said he wanted the girls to have an equally impressive holiday tournament opportunity in Tarrant County.
“She thought a holiday tournament would be bigger and better and have a better volunteer base,” Meeks said. “They were right. You need a civic organization, and the Rotary Club said yes.
After 10 years, the Rotary Club stepped back as a sponsor, but it remains a valuable source of volunteers. The Sunrise Rotary Club receives a contribution from the proceeds of the tournament.
“There was only one thing left to do,” Meeks said Weems told him. “Go to Vernon Newsom (the Mansfield superintendent) and get his approval.”
Meeks said Newsom had only one comment after giving his blessing to the tournament.
“Make it the best tournament in the state,” Meeks said of Newsom’s only request.
That first tournament had just 16 teams, but every event afterward has had a full 32-team bracket.
And this year’s 32 teams include eight which are state-ranked.
Among them are Timberview, Canyon, Amarillo and Pflugerville.
Meeks underlined the competitiveness of the tournament by pointing out that Canyon has come to the tournament every year.
In the past 13 seasons, Canyon has won seven state titles but just one Spring Creek Invitational championship.
Spring Creek Barbeque is in its fourth year as title sponsor, but the tournament also relies on grants from the city’s hotel-motel tax in addition to gate receipts and concessions.
“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Meeks said, “but once the event gets here, what I do is done except for putting out a few fires. The competition is just superior.”
Having four varsity gyms available for the tournament is another gem for the visiting teams.
“We play all the games on varsity floors and not in some back gyms. It’s good for the fans,” Meeks said.
First-round games include Timberview tipping things off at 8 a.m. against Shadow Creek; Mansfield vs. Austin Bowie at 8 a.m.; Legacy vs. Keller at 9:45 a.m.; Lake Ridge vs. Irving MacArthur at 9:45 a.m. and Summit vs. Grapevine at 11:45 a.m.
Lake Ridge will be playing at Summit, while the other local teams are hosting their first round games.
The full tournament bracket can be found at mansfieldisd.org.