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Beach gets busy in preparation for holiday prep tournaments

Standout athletes from around the nation will excite area fans with no-look passes, one-handed catches and high-flying dunks over the next 15 days.

But none of that would be possible if it wasn't for those behind the scenes that have turned the Grand Strand into a late December mecca for high school athletics. For every star on the field or court, there are many off it that toll in anonymity. Yet, it's their work that ultimately allows such events to thrive and survive year after year.

The Strand will host four basketball tournaments and an all-star football game between today and Jan. 2, providing a multitude of entertainment options for area prep fans looking to spend some time away from their families. Those involved with hosting the events are just hoping to find time for their families.

"I'm fortunate that my family is supportive," said North Myrtle Beach athletic director Joe Quigley, whose school hosts the Shoot-Out by the Sea Dec. 21-23. "Our wives help out and work the tournament. We've got families that have jumped in with both feet. ... But there is no doubt that there have been times I would rather be at home in front of the fireplace next to the Christmas tree."

Quigley and his staff, most notably basketball coaches John Trussell and Jude Hunt, have carved out their own niche in the holiday-tournament season over the last half decade. But it hasn't been easy, since they are doing most of the work by themselves, including thousands of hours spent scheduling, planning and preparing.

Their efforts have been aided by volunteers, a group that has included their wives and other members of their families. Even when their loved ones aren't helping out, they are supportive. That freed Carvers Bay boys coach Jeff Mezzatesta to help organize the Georgetown County Christmas Classic, an inaugural event which begins Saturday, for eight boys teams in Horry and Georgetown counties.

"The thing I'm blessed with is that my wife knew she was marrying a coach," Mezzatesta said. "The one thing I can say is that I'm a very lucky man, because she shares in all the dreams if it's for the kids. That's the best part about a coach's wife.

"Basketball is great and we enjoy winning, but the biggest thing is it's about the kids. When school is out, they are still our kids and we still have to find things for them to do instead of just turning them lose. I know I'm lucky to have a wife that believes in what we're trying to do."

The Beach Ball Classic has had a similar mission for the last three decades, bringing in some of the nation's best prep teams and giving their players the ultimate platform on which to perform. But there is plenty of behind-the-scenes work that has to be done by executive director John Rhodes and his army of staff and volunteers.

Running the event and the girls' version, the Crescent Bank Holiday Invitational, which begins today, is a year-round gig that includes a heavy emphasis on scouting and booking teams in the months following the tournaments. Then Rhodes' attention will turn to the numerous other details before the two-week grind begins each December.

Once he moves into the tournaments' host hotel, he'll only be home for a day or two until the Beach Ball Classic wraps up on New Year's Eve.

"You do get worn out," Rhodes said. "People think, 'His job is great, because he gets to watch ballgames all day.' That's true, but you think about all day. It's from noon to 11 at night. ... It's almost like a factory the way things are run. It's almost run like an assembly line."

And Rhodes and his brethren keep turning out a quality product year after year.

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