Wild Turkey Shootout: Youngsters net success in annual tournament
WORTHINGTON — Growing in the game of life or in your skill set within the game of basketball are both processes to be embraced and followed through with.
So it went with over 500 young basketball players taking part in the 29th Annual Wild Turkey Shootout basketball tournament in Worthington Saturday.
With a tournament bracket for fourth-grade teams through freshman teams, there was room for everyone in the tournament, which utilized 10 gym floors in seven different facilities throughout the city. Proceeds from the tournament benefit youth sports in Worthington and the event was sponsored by the Sports and Recreation Committee of the Worthington Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
“All of the proceeds we generate here go back to the city for youth sports,” said tournament director Nicholas Raymo. “Basically, it’s for anything to do with sports and recreation around Worthington.”
In its long history, the Wild Turkey Shootout has grown in its popularity and size. This weekend, a sum of 54 teams entered the tournament. Hardware was earned by first, second and third place teams in each age bracket.
Winners of the fourth-grade tournament, for instance, were the team from Central Lyon, in Rock Rapids, Iowa.
“Our season’s been going well and we played really good (today),” Central Lyon team member Rex Van Wyhe said. “We passed well and had good teamwork. I had a lot of fun today.”
Van Wyhe’s teammate, Mason Gerleman, agreed that the Shootout turned out to be a successful outing for their young Lions.
“We shot well today,” Gerleman said. “Our season has gone well and it was fun to play in the tournament today.”
Games were played under rules established by the Minnesota State High School League and grades four through seven played 12 minute halves while eighth and ninth-graders played 14 minute halves.
Justin Heckenlaible — also the mens basketball coach and athletic director at Minnesota West Community and Technical College — coaches his son Trey’s team, a fourth-grade team from Worthington. As a collegiate coach, Heckenlaible understands the benefits of youth sports and enjoyed coaching in the Shootout, a tournament he once played in as a middle-schooler himself.
“It’s a fun, fun tournament. It’s a local tournament where our team can play at home to kind of wrap up our year,” Heckenlaible said. “(At our level) We’re trying to establish the fundamentals. There was a lot of good talent in our division that I saw, as well as in other divisions. There is always really good talent and it’s fun to see those kids grow from year to year.”
For the freshmen involved in this year’s tournament, they had the benefit of playing in West’s new Health and Wellness Center. On a college-sized, 94 feet long floor with a three-man officials crew, the goal was to give the tournament’s six ninth-grade squads a sneak peak of high school play and collegiate play.
“What we try and do with our our ninth-grade teams is give them a college atmosphere. We let them play on a college court, which is bigger than their used to,” Raymo said. “All of our referees there are high school league certified. We try and set ourselves apart from other tournaments in the area (by doing that).
“The facility has been nothing but phenomenal for those people,” Raymo added of the Bluejays’ new gym. “Great job, Minnesota West.”
At the end of the day, the one goal Raymo and his countless volunteers set out to achieve seemed like it had been met.
“When we have a team come in fourth grade, for instance, and they continue to come back, that just shows the quality of tournament Worthington handles,” Raymo said. “To see these kids go from fourth grade to fifth grade and sixth grade, and seeing the different progressions of abilities, it’s fun to watch. To see these fourth-graders, for instance, walk away with a trophy today, that’s why we’re here. We’re not here for any other reason than to support the kids.”