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Weather won't slow Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach

The Beach Ball Classic isn't the U.S. Postal Service, but they do share a similar motto.

"Rain, snow, sleet or hail, the Beach Ball will be held,'" joked tournament director John Rhodes.

That's the official word despite the blizzard that is sweeping through the Midwest and Northeast over the Christmas holiday.

Rhodes is concerned about two teams in particular, Alexander Hamilton (Wis.) and Nichols (N.Y.), which were slated to fly into Myrtle Beach on Christmas Day and scheduled to play in the tournament today. In fact, Hamilton is set to play in the opening game against Socastee at 3:30 p.m.

"We had a situation like this a few years ago when Jesuit out of Rochester (N.Y.) got snowed in at the airport and wound up missing their game," Rhodes recalled. "The safety of the teams is our main concern. Beyond that, we just monitor the situation and adjust the schedule as we have to."

The 29th annual Beach Ball has a bit of a safety net built in with Sunday falling on the second day of the tournament. That gives other teams who are arriving after Christmas an extra day to get to the beach and allows tournament officials some wiggle room in scheduling.

Sunday games were eliminated from the Beach Ball schedule recently because many schools were under state rules that prohibited play on Sundays. Rhodes said there is a chance the Beach Ball could add some Sunday games this year for schools that don't have those blue-law restrictions.

"We could move some games to Sunday for teams that are allowed, and there's a chance we could change the schedule and have Hamilton and Nichols play each other on Monday," he said. "We really don't know enough now to make a decision, but we are going to be flexible and get all the games in."

The situation is all too reminiscent of the snowy scenario in 1989, when the Grand Strand experienced its first white Christmas in recorded history. A cold front stationed just off the coast dumped more than a foot of snow on Myrtle Beach, essentially shutting the town down while surrounding areas didn't see a flake.

Rhodes recalls flying into Columbia with former Beach Ball Classic director Dan D'Antoni and his Socastee High basketball team from a tournament in Las Vegas and driving back to the Strand on Christmas Eve under clear conditions ... until they got through Florence. It took them four hours to drive the final 60 miles due to a storm that almost cancelled the Beach Ball.

"We were laughing all the way to Florence because people were talking about how bad it was in Myrtle Beach and we didn't see anything," Rhodes recalled. "We figured they probably had a half-inch in Myrtle Beach and that was enough to shut everything down. Then we got through Florence and it was snowing so hard you couldn't see."

Once they arrived home safely the big concern became how they were going to put on a basketball tournament. Myrtle Beach International Airport was closed, roads were impassable and water pipes had burst at the hotel where the teams were going to be staying. But, true to its mantra, the Beach Ball Classic committee and the community rallied together to let the hoops show go on.

"Kids were getting off the plane and looking around like, 'This is our sunny vacation destination? They have more snow here than we did back in New York,' " Rhodes recalled. "But everybody pulled together and it was a great tournament, just like we'll do this year if we have any weather problems."