The Myrtle Beach Convention Center and Myrtle Beach Sports Center will be overtaken by girls and women’s basketball teams in the week leading up to Christmas.
The CresCom Bank Holiday Invitational girls high school basketball tournament – the sister event to the popular Beach Ball Classic boys basketball tournament – is expanding from 16 to 32 teams this year, and an affiliated college event is also growing.
The Carolinas Challenge will feature eight college teams combining to play seven games at the convention center in the midst of the high school tournament, and it has gained a title sponsor in Philanthropist.com.
“It becomes another economic impact in our city that’s during a period that’s pretty slow, and that’s the week before Christmas,” said John Rhodes, executive director of both events and the Beach Ball and Myrtle Beach’s former mayor.
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Rhodes hopes to expand the CresCom field to at least 48 and possibly 64 teams in 2019.
“With 37 years of experience doing this, it sort of becomes a little easier,” Rhodes said. “If I was just starting out, I’d probably be going crazy. With 37 years of experience it’s like dominoes, certain things fall into place.
“. . . The other key too is you have to have a good committee that can help you, and that’s one thing we have is a good committee.”
Coastal Carolina will play a pair of games during the college event against Auburn and Rice. “It’s our local school so you want to keep them involved,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said organizing women’s programs recruited opponents, so North Carolina brought in Auburn and Rice, and Wake Forest and East Carolina brought in South Carolina State and Longwood. All but Wake Forest and Longwood will play two games each.
“A lot of the colleges got excited about the Crescom Bank Holiday Invitational girls tournament expanding,” Rhodes said. “. . . It gives them a chance for their teams, their schools to be seen by these players without having to go to their school.”
The high school games will be played in mornings and afternoons, and college games will be scheduled for 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. from Dec. 18-21. The high school players receive free admission to the college games.
The tournaments’ expansions were born out of demand.
Rhodes said the largest girls high school holiday tournament is the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, which features 96 teams. But because of the cost to travel cross country, Rhodes said he was asked by coaches on the East Coast to expand his field to give them a better alternative.
Rhodes said it took him a couple months to get to 24 teams and only two additional days to get the final eight teams. Additional teams have already called to reserve a spot in next year’s field, Rhodes said.
Rhodes expects the Crescom to feature up to five high school teams ranked in the top 30 in the country.
Some of the top teams coming include Riverdale of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; McEachern of Powder Springs, Ga.; Lovejoy in Hampton, Ga.; Oxbridge Academy of West Palm Beach, Fla.; Northwest Guilford in Greensboro, N.C.; Southeast Raleigh in N.C.; Miami Senior in Florida; and Bellwood-Antis of Bellwood, Pa.
Admission to the high school games is $5 per day at the door or free if you get tickets at a Crescom Bank branch, and college game tickets are $10 per night, with two games on three of four nights.
The Beach Ball Classic is remaining at 16 teams this year.
Carolinas Challenge schedule
Games at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Dec. 18: Rice vs. North Carolina , Auburn vs. Coastal Carolina
Dec. 19: Wake Forest vs. S.C. State, East Carolina vs. Longwood
Dec. 20: Auburn vs. North Carolina, Rice vs. Coastal Carolina
Dec. 21: East Carolina vs. S.C. State